To Kill A Mockingbird: Bob and Mayella Ewell
An essay by Isidor Goldberg

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is furnished with a plethora of interesting, complex characters. Clashing beliefs and moral codes keep readers on their toes, bringing the story to life at every turn. One of the most intriguing relationships in the book is that between Bob and Mayella Ewell, two social pariahs in the small town of Maycomb. Together, they conspire to frame Tom Robinson, a local black man, for the alleged rape of Mayella Ewell. Although they are father and daughter, as well as partners in perjury, they have differences alongside similarities.

In keeping with their reputations as “trash”, The Ewells’ visages are somewhat less than desirable. They are accustomed to a life of poverty, physical labor, dirt, grime, and squalor as a result of Bob Ewell’s insatiable fancy for green whiskey and the general laziness of their family. Mayella is described as a “thick-bodied girl accustomed to strenuous labor”, and Bob as “a little bantam-cock of a man”. Uneducated and crude, they are excessively colloquial in a rude fashion, and are apparently extremely unused to polite society. “’I seen that black nigger yonder ruttin’ on my Mayella!’” is Bob Ewell’s chosen accusation of Tom Robinson, not just casually, but under oath in court. This sort of blatant, racist and lewd outburst demonstrates his ignorance, and reveals how overwhelmed he is by the situation he faces. Mayella too is overwhelmed. “’Won’t answer a word you say long as you keep on mockin’ me,’” are the words with which she responds to Atticus calling her “’ma’am’” and “’miss Mayella’”. She misinterprets common courtesy as humiliating and demeaning mockery. This displays to the reader how removed she is from the experience of politeness.

However similar, Mayella and Bob are not one entity entirely. Mayella retains different scraps of pride than her father. She appreciates beauty, and tries to maintain a sense of it in her wretched life. She possesses “six chipped-enamel slop jars holding brilliant red geraniums.” Bob, on the other hand, does not care one way or another about beauty, and would just as well have none. They also have different attitudes towards cleanliness: “In Maycomb County, it was easy to tell when someone bathed regularly, as opposed to yearly lavations: Mr. Ewell had a scalded look; as if an overnight soaking had deprived him of protective layers of dirt, his skin appeared to be sensitive to the elements. Mayella looked as if she tried to keep clean…” In these manners, Mayella seems more scrupulous than Bob.

One central difference between them is their motivation in their respective vendettas against Tom Robinson. Bob is motivated by his anger at the destruction of his one bit of honor. He feels that he must retaliate against the source of his anger. Mayella, however is motivated by her horror and guilt at her own attempted seduction of Tom, as well as a crushing fear that her father’s anger will be shifted onto her if she does not help to convict Tom. A huge element of this book lies in the personalities of the characters, not just their actions.

Its flavorful and interesting characters, and their relationships and singularities define To Kill A Mockingbird. Characters that are comparable, but not indistinguishable really add a tangled and tense element to this book, swirling the story perfectly into an emotional and jarring book worthy of the title “classic”.