Bob & Mayella Ewell in To Kill a Mockingbird: Character, Analysis & Quotes

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  • 0:00 Intro to the Ewell Family
  • 0:37 Bob Ewell in 'To Kill…
  • 3:43 Mayella Ewell in 'To…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

If you've read ''To Kill a Mockingbird', you know that the Ewell family of Maycomb County is a no-good, dirty bunch. This lesson explores the ins and outs of Bob and Mayella Ewell and their role in the novel.

Intro to the Ewell Family

The sleepy southern town of Maycomb, Alabama, is just like other towns around the United States. It has its upstanding citizens who obey the law and demand justice. It has your average citizens who go about their business, not really asking much of anyone but not adding much to society either.

It also has one of 'those' families, the bottom of the barrel type that makes other citizens cringe. For the fictional town of Maycomb in To Kill a Mockingbird, this is the Ewell family.

Bob Ewell in To Kill a Mockingbird

Think about the cruelest, meanest, dirtiest person you've ever met. Multiply those negative qualities by about 85, and you have Robert E. Lee Ewell, otherwise known as Bob Ewell. Bob Ewell is the patriarch of the notorious Ewell family that resides in Maycomb. A widower, Bob was left to raise his kids alone. He's been fired from nearly every job he's ever had, he spends his government checks on alcohol, and he hunts game out of season.

On top of everything else, Bob physically and emotionally abuses his oldest daughter, who is largely responsible for raising her siblings. Make no mistake, Bob Ewell is not winning the 'Father of the Year' award.

So why would Harper Lee include such an atrocious character in her novel? Bob Ewell, aside from being an all-around awful person, is a symbolic figure in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Bob Ewell becomes an important character in the novel after he accuses Tom Robinson, a black man, of raping and beating his daughter Mayella. On the witness stand, Bob Ewell is flippant and rude. When asked whether he is the father of Mayella, he responds, 'Well, if I ain't I can't do nothing about it now, her ma's dead.' Needless to say his behavior is far from endearing to Maycomb's citizens.

In reality, Tom is not a rapist and Bob is actually the one responsible for beating Mayella after seeing her advances towards Tom. So why would he lie under oath and testify against an innocent man?

Bob represents the uneducated and racist sector of the Southern population. He is indisputably the worst person living in Maycomb, but because he is a white man, this puts him above Tom Robinson. Bob Ewell knows that Tom is innocent, but takes advantage of his perceived superiority for his own benefit. By accusing Tom of rape, Bob Ewell gets his 15 minutes of fame in Maycomb and assumes the trial will paint him to be some sort of a local hero.

Ultimately, Bob Ewell's scheme backfires. Tom Robinson is found guilty, but the public's opinion of Bob Ewell worsens. Atticus tells his children, 'I destroyed his last shred of credibility at that trial, if he had any to begin with.' This leads Bob to retaliate. He harasses Tom Robinson's wife, Helen, by showing up outside of her work. Her boss sums up the sentiments of Maycomb's residents: 'First thing you can do, Ewell, is get your stinkin' carcass off my property. You're leanin' on it an' I can't afford fresh paint for it.' Then Bob Ewell attempts to murder Atticus' children, Scout and Jem, but their neighbor protects them, and Bob is killed in the encounter.

Mayella Ewell in To Kill a Mockingbird

Mayella Ewell is the oldest of the Ewell children. She is a true victim of her circumstances. Powerless, isolated, and bored, Mayella tries and fails to gain some sort of control over her life. At just 19 years old, Mayella is responsible for rearing her younger siblings. She doesn't attend school with people her own age, which means that she likely doesn't have many friends. Scout acknowledges Mayella's predicament, 'Mayella Ewell must have been the loneliest person in the world.'

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