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In "To Kill a Mockingbird", how does Atticus define rape for Scout?

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stellagolovach | Student, Grade 10 | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 16, 2008 at 6:34 AM via web

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In "To Kill a Mockingbird", how does Atticus define rape for Scout?

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ladyvols1 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted December 16, 2008 at 9:11 AM (Answer #1)

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At the beginning of chapter 14, of "To Kill a Mockingbird"  Scout remembers she has a question for Atticus.  "What's rape?" I asked him that night.  Atticus looked around from behind his paper.  He was in his chair by the window.  He sighed, and said rape was carnal knowledge of a female by force and without consent.  "Well if that's all it is why did Calpurnia dry me up when I asked her what it was?

Calpurnia did not think it was her place to explain the act of rape to Scout, so she left it up to Attitus.

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zumba96 | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 3) Valedictorian

Posted March 14, 2015 at 10:50 PM (Answer #2)

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Atticus describes it as "carnal knowledge of a female by force" "without consent". When Scout asked Calpurnia about this she did not believe that it was her position to explain what it was and decided to leave this task up to her father. Scout was confused as to why Cal wouldn't answer her question so instead she went to her father.  You can find this scene at the beginning of chapter 14.

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readerofbooks | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted May 21, 2015 at 1:48 PM (Answer #3)

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This is a good question. Let me give you the context. Scout and Jem heard that there would be a trial and that Tom Robinson was accused of raping Mayella Ewell. The natural question for a curious young girl was to ask what rape was. Scout asked Calpurnia, but Calpurnia did not feel comfortable answering. Instead, she directed the question to Atticus and changed the subject and asked Scout if she was hungry. 

When Scout finally asked Atticus, Atticus gave her a very legal sounding definition - carnal knowledge of a woman without her consent. Scout acted like she understood. Atticus knew that Scout was too young to understand but he also knew that he had to give an answer. From this perspective, Atticus's words were wise. Here is the conversation:

Atticus looked around from behind his paper. He was in his chair by the window. As we grew older, Jem and I thought it generous to allow Atticus thirty minutes to himself after supper.

He sighed, and said rape was carnal knowledge of a female by force and without consent.

“Well if that’s all it is why did Calpurnia dry me up when I asked her what it was?”

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