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Villain Overview

...so help me God.
~ Bob Ewell's first quote in the novel.
Too proud to fight, you n---er-lovin' bastard?
~ Bob trash talking Atticus.

Robert E. Lee "Bob" Ewell is the main antagonist of the 1960 Harper Lee novel To Kill a Mockingbird, and its 1962 film adaptation of the same name. He is a vile, racist, and cruel man who is shown in the film to have an extreme hatred and disrespect for black people. He is also the irresponsible and selfish leader of the Ewell family, who seeks to become a hero in the eyes of Maycomb County by incriminating Tom Robinson and having him thrown in jail.

He was portrayed by the late James Anderson.

History

Background

Robert E. Lee Ewell was the patriarch of the Ewell clan, a large family of degenerates best known for only coming to school on the first day and then never showing up again. He is a raging alcoholic who takes very poor care of his family and only feeds them by hunting local wildlife. He also has no respect for others, just as Maycomb County has no respect for him. Bob has 8 children, one of which was Mayella Ewell.

He and his family lived as guests of Maycomb County during the Great Depression and lived in poverty. They didn't have enough money to keep their offspring in school nor get public health officers to treat them of illnesses. They lived in a cabin that was once a home for African-Americans and located behind the town garbage dump. The cabin had sheets of corrugated iron supplemented to its walls, and the roof had hammered tin cans for the shingles. It was shaped like a square and had 4 tiny rooms that opened onto a shotgun hall. It also rested on four structures of limestone rock, which were covered with greasy strips of cheesecloth in the summertime; this was done to keep out wild animals that feasted on refuse in Maycomb.

Every day, the Ewells collected items from the dump and took them to where the cabin was, and the fruits of their industry which have not been eaten made the area around the cabin look like a messy playhouse. Many of these items included tree-limbs, broomsticks, tool shafts, snaggle-toothed rake heads, shovels, axes, and grubbing hoes. It also included the remains of a Model-T Ford on blocks, a discarded dentist’s chair, a very old icebox, old shoes, worn-out table radios, picture frames, and fruit jars. On one corner of the yard, however, were 6 chipped-enamel slop jars having red geraniums inside of them, which people said belonged to Mayella Ewell.

Nobody was sure how many children were at the Ewells' property. Many people said there were 6; others said there were nine. However, it was sure there were several dirty-faced children facing out the windows when anybody had passed by, but nobody passed by the Ewells' cabin except at Christmas Day, except when the churches brought baskets, and when the mayor of Maycomb told the Finch family to help the garbage collector by taking out their own trees and trash and throwing them into the dumpster.

To Kill a Mockingbird

During the story, he beats his daughter Mayella and frames a black man named Tom Robinson for beating up and raping Mayella, who faces a possible death sentence, hoping that Maycomb County would consider him a hero for doing so.

At the trial, Tom is defended by Atticus Finch, who makes a strong case for the defendant and exposes a number of flaws in Mayella’s story which makes people suspicious of Bob, although Tom is officially found guilty due to the unfair racial bias of the court system.

Though he was successful at convicting Tom Robinson, he gets angry at Maycomb County for still not respecting him. Later, Bob Ewell swears revenge on Atticus for defaming him, and spits in his face, and even harasses Helen Robinson, Tom’s widow after Tom tragically dies while trying to escape from prison before an appeal could be made; however, Link Deas, Tom's former employer, threatens to throw Bob in jail if he ever harasses her again.

Ewell still wishes to get revenge on Atticus Finch for what he managed to prove in court. At the climax of the book, Ewell returns and tries to personally hurt Atticus by attempting to kill Scout and Jem (Atticus' children) with a kitchen knife while they are walking home through the woods. He tackles Jem and wings his knife at Scout repeatedly, in some kind of insane rage. But Boo Radley, who is renowned by many as the town freak, sees this happening and intervenes. He tackles Mr Ewell and, using the kitchen knife, stabs him to death, saving the lives of Jem and Scout.

Personality

Bob Ewell is a racist individual who hates African-Americans, including Tom Robinson (despite him being an innocent man who never did anything wrong). He doesn't like Atticus Finch as the latter believes that whites and blacks are equal. Ewell is also a domestic abuser, as Atticus revealed in court that Ewell likely beat his own daughter Mayella after he saw her forcefully kissing Tom, and it is heavily implied that Ewell raped Mayella himself and framed Tom for it, which would make him guilty of incest as well. Ewell is also a coward at heart because after Atticus managed to prove what he said in court, Bob didn't go after him; instead, he decided to go after Scout and Jem, meaning he was willing to kill two children to get what he wanted. However, this only led to him being killed by Boo Radley. This means that he would have likely killed his own daughter if she told the jury that he was the one who raped her.

On top of the abuse, Bob also shows no regard for his children's lives. He continues to waste his welfare money on beer instead of providing for them. His neglect was so bad that law enforcement let his poaching slide as they knew it was the only thing he was willing to do to make sure his children were fed. This neglect also shows that Bob is careless on top of being an abusive and racist monster.

Quotes

You goddamn whore, I'll kill you!
~ Bob Ewell threatening Mayella Ewell after the latter kisses Tom Robinson.
I seen that black n---er yonder ruttin' on my Mayella!
~ Bob Ewell lying about witnessing Tom Robinson rape Mayella.
Bob Ewell: Don't you look at me, Link Deas, like I was dirt. I ain't jumped your–
Link Deas: You don't have to touch her, all you have to do is make her afraid, an' if assault ain't enough to keep you locked up awhile, I'll get you in on the Ladies' Law, so get outta my sight! If you don't think I mean it, just bother that girl again!
~ Bob Ewell to Link Deas, who responds by threatening Ewell with being imprisoned.

Trivia

  • Bob's full name, Robert E. Lee Ewell, directly references Robert E. Lee, an American general who commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during the American Civil War. This is noteworthy since the Confederate States of America were the ones vying for the right to continue the enslavement of African-Americans, and Bob Ewell is an extremely racist man and almost definitely would've supported the continuation of enslavement.
  • Harper Lee named Bob Ewell after Robert E. Lee because, in her childhood experience, "white trash" were named after Confederate generals.
  • Also, his surname is based on Richard Ewell, who was Lee's henchman.

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