In To Kill a Mocking Bird, Harper Lee gives us a very detailed description of Robert Ewell, his family, and how he lives.
A good example is the passage in which Robert Ewell testifies in the Tom Robinson Trial. This is a description of the Ewell’s home as well as an insight into the Ewells themselves. We learn what kind of a father Robert is and the kind of life into which he has forced his eldest daughter, Mayella. We also see how the county of Maycomb cruelly discriminates against the black community even though they are more respectable than people like the Ewells. Lee uses such detail in the account of the Ewell cabin because the best way to understand the Ewells is to understand how they live.
For example, she states, “The cabin’s plank walls were supplemented with sheets of corrugated iron, its general shape suggested it’s original design: square, with four tiny rooms opening onto a shotgun hall, the cabin rested uneasily upon four irregular lumps of limestone. Its windows were merely open spaces in the walls, which in the summer were covered with greasy strips of cheese cloth to keep out the varmints that feasted on Maycomb’s refuse.” This description paints a very vivid picture of the cabin and also tells a little bit about the Ewells themselves. From this we can infer that the Ewells took very little (if any at all) pride in their home and it’s appearance. Later in the passage Lee adds, “What passed for a fence was bits of tree limbs, broomsticks and tool shafts, all tipped with rusty hammer heads, shovels, axes and grubbing hoes, held on with pieces of barbed wire.” By now it is apparent that the only household repairs the Ewells make are with things they find at the dump. The image Lee is trying to form of these people is made very obvious by her use of details. The passage also gives quite a bit of insight into Mr.Ewell himself.
For example, Lee states, “The varmints had a lean of it, for the Ewells gave the dump a thorough gleaning every day^” This statement informs us that the Ewells main source of revenue is form the town dump. Quite a pathetic way to keep ones family fed; but what can one expect for an unemployed alcoholic like Mr.Ewell? As Lee states earlier in the passage, “No truant officers could keep their numerous offspring in school; no public health officer could free them from congenital defects, various worms, and diseases indigenous to filthy surroundings.” THIS DOES NOT CONTRIBUTE TO YOUR THESIS>However as terrible as he is as a father he serves quite a useful purpose as a contrast to Atticus Finch. Mr.Finch’s loving and attentiveness towards his children his is made very obvious when compared to Mr.Ewell’s abusiveness and neglect. “One corner of the yard, though, bewildered Maycomb. Against the fence, in a line, were six chipped-enamel slop jars holding brilliant red geraniums, cared for as tenderly as if they belonged to Miss Maudie Atkinson, had Miss Maudie deigned to permit a geranium on her premises.” Mayella Ewell is the eldest of the Ewell children, and only member of the Ewell family who has any pride and sense of dignity at all. As a result of that she is forced to be main provider and caregiver for the younger Ewell children as Lee expresses in this statement, “Nobody was quite sure how many children were on the place.
Some people said six, others said nine; there were always several dirty-faced ones at the windows when anyone passed by.” With all those children to take care Mayella was only able to get a few years worth of education, and had no time for any friends. After being forced into this kind of life by her father one might wonder why Mayella would want to lie under oath on the witness stand to defend his lies. Probably because she was afraid of what he would do to her if she told the truth, but also because she had been living with the abuse from him all her life, and couldn’t imagine her life being any different. In direct contrast to the Ewells was the “Negro settlement some five hundred yards beyond the Ewells.” As Lee states, “their cabins looked neat and snug with pale blue smoke rising from the chimneys and doorways glowing amber from the fries inside. There were delicious smells about: chicken, bacon frying crisp as twilight air. Jem and I detected squirrel cooking, but it took a real country man like Atticus to identify possum and rabbit, aromas that vanished when we rode back past the Ewell residence.” The members of the black community lived in poverty like the Ewells, but unlike the Ewells they managed to keep their homes neat and their children fed.
Lee makes this comparison and then goes on the say that the Ewells are still considered the better people in the eyes of Maycomb because as a demonstration of the kind of discrimination that is simply accepted by towns like Maycomb. This passage also brings up many subjects that could be considered universal truths. For example, Lee states that, “Every town the size of Maycomb had families like the Ewells. No economic fluctuations changed their status–people like the Ewells lived as guests of the county in prosperity as well as in the depths of a depression.” This is true, almost every place has its leaches, but I would doubt if most would be as hospitable as Maycomb is to the Ewells.
This passage also implies the effects of negative parenting on children. If Mr.Ewell had been a better father his children would have had a better chance of being functional members of society. This would be true for any children living abusive or negligent environments. Harper Lee’s in-depth description of the Ewell house hold leads to the conclusion that even though the Mr.Ewell lived in disgusting, self-inflicted poverty and abused and neglected his children he was still more respected than any of the black people in Maycomb. This is because communities like Maycomb just assume that because a culture is a little bit different they are not as good a the norm of the society.