Bob Ewell, the patriarch of the Ewell family, is the antithesis of Atticus’s character and represents the lowest socioeconomic class among the white citizens of Maycomb. Aggressive and spiteful, Mr. Ewell upholds his family’s reputation as a source of trouble in the town as he disregards both legal and social expectations. He refuses to work to provide for his family, a choice that renders it impossible to escape their disheveled and hungry lives in their small house behind the town garbage dump. The only thing keeping the Ewells from being at the bottom of Maycomb’s social hierarchy, from the town’s point of view, is the fact that they are white. Mr. Ewell desperately clings to this fact as it effectively gives him a free pass for his behavior and fills him with a sense of superiority and power.
The tension between Mr. Ewell and Atticus explodes when these feelings of supremacy are called into question during the trial. Atticus effectively argues that Mr. Ewell is responsible for beating his daughter rather than Tom Robinson, and to Mr. Ewell, this accusation feels like an attack on his claims of superiority over the Black community in Maycomb. As a result, he violently lashes out at everyone who he perceives as a threat to his status despite the fact that, in reality, he is the only one who is guilty and deserving of punishment. This response highlights the stark contrasts between Mr. Ewell and Atticus. Beyond their basic differences in work ethic and demeanor, the way in which they respond to threats against their characters sets them up as foils for each other. Mr. Ewell goes after the innocent in order to protect himself, and Atticus seeks to protect the innocent regardless of what the personal cost to him may be. Although Mr. Ewell wins in court and Tom is locked away, his continued pursuit of punishing those who threatened his status becomes his fatal flaw as he dies while trying to attack Jem and Scout.