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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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Who killed Bob Ewell?

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Boo Radley wrestles Bob's knife out of his hands and ends up killing him.

In chapter 28, Bob Ewell attacks Jem and Scout as they are walking home from Maycomb's Halloween festival. During the attack, Scout cannot identify the person wrestling Bob Ewell off of her and Jem because her ham costume obstructs her vision. After the scuffle ends, Scout sees the outline of a man walking with staccato steps carrying Jem home. When Scout returns home, she meets Boo Radley for the first time as Atticus and Sheriff Tate discuss who killed Bob Ewell. Atticus initially believes that Jem killed Bob Ewell, but Sheriff Tate disagrees. Sheriff Tate then tells Atticus, "Bob Ewell fell on his knife. He killed himself" (Lee, 277). However, Atticus insists that his son take responsibility for murdering Bob Ewell. Sheriff Tate then demonstrates how Bob fell on his own knife before indirectly telling Atticus the truth. Sheriff Tate admits that Boo Radley stabbed and killed Bob Ewell with a kitchen knife by telling Atticus,

I never heard tell that it’s against the law for a citizen to do his utmost to prevent a crime from being committed, which is exactly what he [Boo Radley] did, but maybe you’ll say it’s my duty to tell the town all about it and not hush it up. Know what’d happen then? All the ladies in Maycomb includin‘ my wife’d be knocking on his door bringing angel food cakes. To my way of thinkin’, Mr. Finch, taking the one man [Boo Radley] who’s done you and this town a great service an‘ draggin’ him with his shy ways into the limelight—to me, that’s a sin. It’s a sin and I’m not about to have it on my head. If it was any other man, it’d be different. But not this man, Mr. Finch (Lee, 280).

The man Sheriff Tate is referring to in the previous quote is Boo Radley, who is the most reclusive citizen in Maycomb. Sheriff Tate refuses to tell the community about Boo's heroics in order to prevent Boo from stepping into the community's limelight. Sheriff Tate then tells the community that Bob Ewell simply fell on his own knife and died.

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The circumstances around Bob Ewell's death seem a little bit mysterious. Bob was likely drunk when he attacked Jem and Scout while they were walking home from school after the evening pageant event; after the confusion of the attack in the dark, Jem ended up with an injured arm, and Bob Ewell ended up with a knife in his chest.

Heck Tate asserts Boo Radley saved the children from more serious harm when he stabbed Bob Ewell with a knife and killed him. Another reading of the situation suggests that Bob Ewell fell on his own knife when he was attempting to hurt Jem. At first, Atticus even believes that Jem stabbed Bob in self-defense, and he is such an upstanding man of the law...

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that he discourages Heck Tate from trying to protect Jem from the consequences of such an action. The widely accepted version points towards Boo Radley as Bob Ewell's killer and the savior of the Finch children.

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Who really kills Bob Ewell at the end of To Kill a Mockingbird?

When Jem and Scout are attacked on their way home from the festival, Jem has his arm severely broken.  He is not able to defend himself or Scout. Scout tells Atticus and the sheriff,

"Somebody was staggerin' around and pantin' and--- coughing fit to die.  I thought it was Jem at first, but it didn't sound like him, so I went lookin' for Jem on the ground.  I thought Atticus had come to help us and had got wore out..." (pg 270)

She saw a person carrying Jem toward the house. She points at a man behind the door and identifies him as the person who helped the two children.  It was Boo Radley.

The sheriff had already told Atticus that Bob Ewell was dead. He was under some trees with a kitchen knife stuck just under his ribs. For some reason, Atticus thinks Jem killed Bob Ewell.  He somehow got the knife out of Bob's hands and used it against him.  He talks to the sheriff about pleading self-defense in court for Jem. Mr. Tate clarifies the situation

"Jem never stabbed Bob Ewell." (pg 272)

Sheriff Tate then goes on to tell Atticus that he is going to write this up as Bob Ewell falling on his knife. Atticus objects stating that he doesn't want his son to grow up with this crime hanging over his head.  He wants him to face it straight on.  Sheriff Tate then explains to Atticus that it wasn't Jem who killed Bob Ewell.  He never says the person's name, but it is strongly inferred that Boo Radley did the deed. The sheriff is going to write it up as Bob Ewell falling on his knife because,

"Mr. Finch, taking the one man who's done you and this town a great service and draggin' him with his shy ways into the limelight ---to me that's a sin.....If it was any other man it'd be different.  But not this man, Mr. Finch." (pg 276)

Sheriff Tate is talking about Boo Radley.  Boo came to the aid of the children and made sure that Jem was brought home for medical care. He was the man carrying Jem home. 

After the sheriff leaves, Atticus tells Scout that what they are going to say is that Bob Ewell fell on his knife so that Boo would not be bothered with people wanting to thank him and honor him for saving the children.   He asks her if she understands.  She assures him that she does.

"Well, it'd be sort of like shootin' a mockingbird, wouldn't it?" (pg 276)

Atticus had earlier told her she should never shoot a mockingbird because,

"Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy....they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird." (pg 90)

Boo did nothing wrong.  He protected the children and his life did not need to be turned upside down for being so kind.

At the of Chapter 30, Atticus said to Boo Radley,

"Thank you for my children, Arthur." (pg 276)

Arthur is Boo's real name.

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