In To Kill a Mockingbird on page 90, what does Atticus mean when he says that Jem has perpetrated a near libel in the front yard?

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Jem and Scout had never seen snow before, so when she awoke one morning and saw that it was white outside, she believed that "The world's endin'..." School was canceled and the kids decided they would build their first snowman. Atticus warned them that there probably wouldn't be enough snow to construct a proper snowman, but Jem had an idea of his own. He would use the snow from Miss Maudie's yard as well. When he discovered that there was still not enough snow for a life-size figure, he used mud for the inside and kept their precious snow for the outer layer. When Atticus got his first glimpse of the character, however, he

... squinted at the snowman a while. He grinned, then laughed.  (Chapter 8)

Atticus saw that the snowman too closely resembled their neighbor, Dick Avery, with a fat belly and "cross" stare. After explaining to Jem that he had "perpetrated a near libel here in the front yard," Atticus suggested that Jem "disguise this fellow." Atticus simply didn't want Mr. Avery to be offended by the snowman, since the man had already blamed the children's bad behavior on the unseasonable cold weather. The white on the outside, black on the inside snowman would symbolically represent the racial makeup of the town and how the differences between blacks and whites were only skin deep.


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