To Kill a Mockingbird: Techniques Used to Pressure and Construct the Characters of Bob Ewell and Atticus Finch

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Harper Lee’s fictional bildungsroman novel, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird (TKAM), published in 1960, depicts America’s discriminatory historical period of the 1900s. It entails the perspective from a reflection of the author's childhood and it also includes the racial prejudicial ways of the past. The novel was positioned in the small old town of Maycomb, Alabama in the 1930s. The cultural assumptions and beliefs in the novel influence the moral nature of the characters, whether people are honest and law-abiding or dishonest and immoral. These assumptions are primarily to position the characters, Bob Ewell as our antagonist and Atticus Finch as our protagonist. The novel demonstrates those assumptions through the beliefs and actions of all the characters in the novel. These ideas about either Atticus or Bob are derived from the unfair justice system, social hierarchy or status, and the good or evil views they have in the community, which leads to prejudiced perceptions that underpin these characters.

The discourse of community perception or position within the social hierarchy in TKAM constructs the character of Bob Ewell throughout the novel to be seen as our antagonist, who opposes the protagonist, Atticus Finch. As the antagonist, Bob Ewell is undoubtedly positioned by Harper Lee to be the “white trash” and worst person to live in the town of Maycomb. This can be shown when Atticus is discussing the topic of justice and race and says,'As you grow older, you'll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don't you forget it—whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash” (pg. 243). Harper Lee uses the literary device of metaphoric language in this particular quote to position Bob Ewell as the lowest in society. It also is a derogatory term that emphasizes the reference to poor white people and repulsiveness due to repugnant behavior. This demonstrates to us that Harper Lee wants to position the character of Bob Ewell in a negative view and that he represents the uneducated and racist sector of the town. Bob Ewell knows that Tom Robinson (wrongfully accused rapist) is innocent, but Ewell takes advantage of his superiority over him for his own benefit. “Maycomb's usual disease' describes the prejudiced attitude against African-Americans around Maycomb, and therefore Bob Ewell reflects this perception. The use of the metaphors “Maycomb’s usual disease” and, “white trash” is part of Harper Lee’s social commentary. The effects of these statements make the reader feel guilty and sympathise with the African-Americans being falsely convicted. It also provides the audience with an understanding of problems within the community and makes the reader believe Bob Ewell is a selfish man that doesn’t appeal to people’s justice unless it’s for his own benefit. The majority of people in Maycomb live with injustice and it reflects on the character of Bob Ewell, through his unfair accusations on a mistreated black man. When Jem explains Maycomb's caste system he says to Scout, 'There’s the ordinary kind like us and the neighbors, there’s the kind like the Cunninghams out in the woods, the kind like the Ewells down at the dump, and the Negroes” (pg. 230). This proves that the communities perception and social hierarchy categorises Tom Robinson only slightly below Bob Ewell due entirely to Toms's skin colour. This, therefore, concludes our character, Bob Ewell, is seen as our antagonist through the community perception and his position within the social hierarchy, a guilty man, above an innocent and good-willed “black” man?

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The injustice of Maycomb is represented by the antagonist Bob Ewell, although the protagonist serves as the justice in the community through his moral nature, community perceptions and social status. Atticus Finch portrays the respectable character of our protagonist and Harper Lee used a number of techniques to structure it that way. There are multiple examples throughout the novel that portrays the fairness and good-nature of Atticus Finch. This is expressed when Atticus gives Scout some moral advice, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it” (pg. 30). The literary device used is yet again an example of a metaphor. It positions the reader to think about the phrase and develop a viewpoint from a different perspective. The above statement to Scout is a crucial piece of advice that governs her development for the rest of the novel. The words of wisdom from Atticus reflects the manner in which he guides himself by and is the sole principle of his beliefs. Other characters also learn valuable lesson from Atticus because of his principled and ethical ways. The town of Maycomb believes that justice is only expected if you are a ‘normal, acceptable part of society and your status is determined by the way you are treated in the community. The above quote from Atticus demonstrates that Harper Lee wants the reader believe Atticus has only good intentions and the effect of metaphors makes the reader reconsider the way people should be viewed. Bob Ewell makes use of his undeserved power over Tom Robinson who supposedly raped his daughter and this set the stage for primary conflict with Atticus, who represented Tom at his trial. This is another example of Atticus serving the community with decency even though he risked being put down in a Maycomb he lived by his morals and did what was right. The citizens of Maycomb view Atticus as an intelligent, moral man, who has a positive demeanour and refuses to be controlled by the corrupted and prejudiced community. Atticus's community members and neighbors trust him because Miss Maudie openly says to Scout, “Atticus Finch is the same in his house as he is on the public streets” (pg. 52). This implies to the reader that Atticus is very straightforward, with no secrets or hidden agenda. Harper Lee most certainly places Atticus Finch as the protagonist in TKAM as he is respected by the community, acts with moral decisions and the communities perception of status and power also positions him this way.

To conclude, Harper Lee has used a number of techniques to pressure and construct the characters of Bob Ewell and Atticus Finch to display opposite perceptions. This also incorporates the cultural assumptions of the highly prejudicial 1930’s, which consisted of the mistreatment of black people, the injustice in Maycomb, and the unfair social status gained from the communities immoral and unethical values. The characters of Bob Ewell and Atticus Finch have conflicting outlooks on the approach of how people should be treated and their ways of life. This exposes them to have collision and Harper Lee shapes the readers to believe that Atticus Finch is the protagonist and Bob Ewell is the antagonist.

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To Kill a Mockingbird: Techniques Used to Pressure and Construct the Characters of Bob Ewell and Atticus Finch. (2022, March 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 20, 2024, from
“To Kill a Mockingbird: Techniques Used to Pressure and Construct the Characters of Bob Ewell and Atticus Finch.” Edubirdie, 17 Mar. 2022,
To Kill a Mockingbird: Techniques Used to Pressure and Construct the Characters of Bob Ewell and Atticus Finch. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 20 Jun. 2024].
To Kill a Mockingbird: Techniques Used to Pressure and Construct the Characters of Bob Ewell and Atticus Finch [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Mar 17 [cited 2024 Jun 20]. Available from:

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