All the little man on the witness stand had that made him any better than his nearest neighbors was, that if scrubbed with lye soap in very hot water, his skin was white.
Scout is looking at Bob Ewell during the trial. This scene is one of many places in the novel where the narrator makes it clear that Bob does not have any social standing or value in the Maycomb community, yet the inherent racism of the town privileges Bob over his black neighbors, even though many of them are better people than Bob. Bob’s lack of personal integrity makes him easy to hate as a character, but is also crucial to one of the novel’s arguments about racism. Even though Tom Robinson is objectively a better person than Bob Ewell, Bob can destroy Tom because of the inequities of race.
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. No truant officers could keep their numerous offspring in school; no public health officer could free them from congenital defects, various worms, and the diseases indigenous to filthy surroundings.
Scout describes the position that the Ewells hold in the Maycomb community. Her description makes clear that the Ewells are not a powerful family who are playing with the lives of those less fortunate. Rather, the Ewells are the poorest of the poor and at the very bottom of white society. This description also establishes the Ewells as a changeless and eternal feature of Maycomb, and symbolic of a certain level of poverty common to all small towns like Maycomb. The lines suggest that circumstances both within and beyond the Ewell’s control prevent them from improving their situation.
Well, Mayella was raisin‘ this holy racket so I dropped m’load and run as fast as I could but I run into th’ fence, but when I got distangled I run up to th‘ window and I seen—” Mr. Ewell’s face grew scarlet. He stood up and pointed his finger at Tom Robinson. “—I seen that black nigger yonder ruttin’ on my Mayella!
Bob Ewell speaks these words at the trial, condemning Tom Robinson to prison, and, by extension, to death. The reader may suspect Bob’s words are not true, but the immediate and violent reaction that the statement draws in the courtroom makes it clear that though things did not happen the way that Bob Ewell describes them, his description resonates with the jury and the community to such a great extent that it will cost an innocent man’s life.
Mr. Finch, there’s just some kind of men you have to shoot before you can say hidy to ‘em. Even then, they ain’t worth the bullet it takes to shoot ’em. Ewell ‘as one of ’em.
Here, Sheriff Heck Tate argues that the stabbing death of Bob Ewell is no loss to the community. Heck Tate downplays Bob’s death in part to justify his own desire to cover up Boo Radley’s role in the incident. Additionally, this line has obvious parallels to the story from Chapter 11 of Heck Tate forcing Atticus to kill a mad dog in the street, suggesting that in both situations, a dangerous element has been removed from the community. The line serves as a final underscore to the novel’s premise that Bob Ewell is irredeemably evil.