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Atticus has been characterized throughout the novel as a patient man, but after the mob scene at the jailhouse, and his sister's negative comments about his taking the case, Atticus is beginning to show signs of anger. This is the first time Scout has ever seen her father exhibit anything other than total composure and patience. The stress of the case is beginning to wear on him, mirroring just how difficult it must be for a man to take a case knowing that he will lose. Also, since it a case dealing with such a sensitive matter, Atticus is beginning to show signs of outrage against the prejudice of his town and even towards members of his family (Aunt Alexandra).
"I was beginning to notice a subtle change in my father these days, that came out when he talked with Aunt Alexandra. It was a quiet digging in, never outright irritation. There was a faint starchiness in his voice when he said, 'Anything fit to say at the table's fit to say in front of Calpurnia. She knows what she means to this family'" (157).
Atticus does have a lot on his plate during this time, with the Tom Robinson case and everything associated with it, but the person who is really driving him nuts is his sister. The whole point with having Aunt Alexandra stay with him and the kids is to support them during this stressful time, but she ironically seems to be doing the opposite of what she was called to do. The scene in which the passage takes place is the morning after the kids go to the jail to help defend their father against the Cunningham lynch mob. Everyone is a little rattled, but Alexandra, rather than showing gratitude that no one got hurt, is criticizing Atticus. Alexandra criticizes him at almost every turn. She criticizes him for allowing Scout to wear overalls; she criticizes him for talking boldly in front of Calpurnia; and she brings tension with her on every occasion. "Aunt Alexandra sipped coffee and radiated waves of disapproval" (156). Atticus can't win with his sister, which would be enough for anyone to lose his/her nerve; but Atticus only subtly changes. He starts speaking with a little more curtness, but he never loses his patience. He seems to be on the defensive, too, but that's because Alexandra is always attacking.
Scout notices the "subtle change" after Aunt Alexandra criticises Atticus for saying that Braxton Underwood despises Negroes in front of Calpurnia.
When the incident at the jail, Scout starts seeing a few changes in her father. Atticus is under tremendous stress from the townspeople and Aunt Alexandra. When he speaks with Aunt Alexandra, Scout sees that Atticus gets more tense. He is also losing patience more easily.
Atticus has always had the patience of a saint, but Scout can see in chapter 16, that he is starting to have his patience tested. Aunt Alexandra is pushing Atticus about not taking the case, the town is trying to create a riot, and Atticus is feeling all the pressure. Scout sees that he is not walking as tall as he once did. He is starting to work later at night, and now Calpurnia and Aunt Alexandra are having to watch the children more. Scout sees that her father is put under tremendous pressure.
Atticus has worked so hard to teach his children that justice comes first. He wants them to know that no matter what, you have to fight for what is right. He has tried so hard to keep Jem and Scout safe, and he sees that safety is no longer a guarantee. All of these things are making Scout see that her father is fatigued and worried.
Atticus is starting to become annoyed and impatient with Aunt Alexandra.
"I was beginning to notice a subtle change in my father these days, that came out when he talked with Aunt Alexandra. It was a quiet digging in, never outright irritation."
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