The Final Illusion of Bob Ewell


Prompt: What do these texts suggest about the ways in which individuals respond to the conflict between illusion and reality?​


Often, illusion stems from an erroneous interpretation of reality. An individual’s perception of reality can consequently become completely changed by an illusion. These illusions can prevent said individual from correctly perceiving reality and thus make decisions and choices that instead support purely their illusions; hence, their sanity may become unhinged, as they are thrust further away from what is truly real. However, if such an event occurs that thoroughly shatters their illusion, an individual is forced to react, as the comfort they found within their beliefs may fade, and the harsh light of reality becomes apparent. In the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee utilizes the character of Bob Ewell to explore the idea that as the conflict of illusion and reality take place within the mind of an individual, they are forced to choose between escaping further into their own illusions, or simply reacting to the truth reality presents.

When an individual who fails to grasp the differences between their own illusions and reality is conflicted, they may still continue to believe in their illusions, as those beliefs provide comfort. As Bob Ewell sits down in court to falsely accuse the black man Tom Robinson of attacking his daughter, he rests easy for he believes that his beliefs regarding reality are completely correct. Ewell states that, gesturing to one Tom Robinson, “I seen that n*gger yonder ruttin’ on my Maybella!” (231). The statement from Ewell here is one that perfectly sums up his character in Lee’s novel. In an uneducated and brash tone, he blatantly accuses Tom Robinson of a crime. The illusion of Bob Ewell is rather simple. In his mind, he believes he should be considered a hero by the people of Maycomb by going to trial against Robinson; he believes he should be applauded for protecting his daughter against the supposedly vicious attacks of Robinson. Of course, Ewell is clearly wrong and the evidence, as showcased by the distinguished figure of Atticus Finch, proves it. However, he continues to believe these ideas, as they are a staple of comfort and hope for him. As a result, the clear truth eludes him. Furthermore, Ewell’s persona is one of laziness, and he is despised by many of the citizens of Maycomb. And yet, Ewell is unable to grasp this as he sits on the stand; he still believes he can win over his fellow citizens despite a lifetime of drunken antics and abusive acts. In this act of the novel, his decision-making still revolves wholly around his false beliefs and Ewell sinks deeper into illusion in the face of conflict. 

An individual who is faced with a conflict of illusion and reality may react violently, as their perceptions of what is real have been torn down and the truth has been exposed. As the trial of Tom Robinson progresses, Bob Ewell sees his credibility, honesty, and what little respect he has, being dismantled at each word out of Atticus Finch and Judge Taylor’s mouths. By the end of the trial, Ewell sees that his reputation in the eyes of the people of Maycomb has been tarnished beyond hope. Seeing Atticus Finch at the post office, Ewell snaps at him, threatening to kill the lawyer, as well as daring the lawyer to fight him, to which Atticus coolly declines. In a fit of rage, Ewell yells, “Too proud to fight, you n*gger-lovin bastard?” (291). It is clearly evident that Ewell is reacting violently to reality, as it is so different from his own belief of what reality is. The illusion of being declared a hero by the town of Maycomb comes crashing down on Ewell, as Atticus proves that he is instead a sexually and physically abusive father who doesn’t provide for his own family. The conflict of reality and illusion once again takes place within the mind of Bob Ewell, this time with reality prevailing, and thus Ewell reacts to what he now sees to be the truth. Due to the fact that Ewell created such a large, believable, illusion within his mind, he is confused by what the true nature of reality is. His fears overwhelm him, even through the comfort provided in believing his illusions. Ewell reacts violently to this sudden change in the truth. When an individual’s illusions are proven to be incorrect by something they had considerable faith in, they lose all hope in believing in that illusion, and may react violently to the world they now see to be true.  

Upon experiencing the conflict of illusion and reality occurring within themselves, an individual may be forced to simply accept reality and abandon any past illusions and beliefs, as said individual does not find any comfort in accepting these beliefs to be true. Says Jean-Louis (Scout), “Thereafter, he resumed his regular weekly appearances at the welfare office for his check, and received it with no grace amid obscure rumblings that the bastards who thought they ran this town wouldn’t permit an honest man to make a living.” (332). In the aftermath of the trial, Bob Ewell, although briefly acquiring and losing a job, seems to have accepted who he is in the town of Maycomb. In the eyes of Scout, Ewell continues to be the same unemployed and lazy individual that he always has been. However, he is no longer under the illusion that there is hope to improve his pitiful legacy in the town of Maycomb and he now accepts that. Essentially, Ewell has abandoned his past illusion due to the fact that he is no longer comforted by it; it is but a pipe dream in his eyes. Instead, he is forced to accept who he is in society. The character of Bob Ewell is used in this instance to create the idea that when an individual is conflicted between reality and illusion, they may be forced to accept the truth. Scout plainly remarks that, “…the Ewells have been a disgrace of Maycomb for three generations.” The novel implies that perhaps it is better for an individual to simply accept one’s reality instead of losing oneself in illusion and dreams. 

In conclusion, when an individual faces a conflict of their illusions and the truth of reality, they are forced to simply accept the truth, or sink deeper into the comfort provided by their illusions. Bob Ewell gets lost within his own beliefs, a world where he and his family are well-respected by the people of Maycomb.  However, when faced with a conflict between illusion and reality, one’s belief in their illusions may be shaken, and what is truly real may come into clear focus. It is how an individual reacts to the truth, therefore, that presents who they truly are and what characteristics, whether noble or flawed, they possess. 


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