When Jem and Scout complain to Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird, what does he tell them?
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Atticus' response to his children’s complaints depends on what they are complaining about. However, when it is about the way a person acts towards them, he usually tells them that they need to look at life from the other person's perspective. They need to think of what it would be like if they were wearing the other person's shoes.
Atticus listens to his children and tries to help them to figure out things for themselves. He is very concerned that his children will grow up not to be closed minded and to have an understanding of what other people feel and experience. He is non-judgmental and he does not want his children to be judgmental or bigots.
Although Jem and Scout probably complain less than most children, there are several examples in To Kill a Mockingbird in which they do so.
- When Scout complains about not wanting to go back to school after a bad first day with Miss Caroline, Atticus tells her that they will continue to read each night--they just won't tell Miss Caroline.
- When Atticus admonishes Scout for using the word "nigger," she complains that "if you don't want me to grow up talkin' that way, why do you send me to school?" He didn't answer, but he "looked at me mildly, amusement in his eyes."
- When the children complained about having to go to Aunt Alexandra's each Christmas, it did no good. It was a tradition that was to continue.
- When Jem complained about having to read to Mrs. Dubose for a month, Atticus told him "Then you'll do it for a month."
In every case, Atticus' final decision is what he believes will be the best for his children.
Jem and Scout complain about many things to Atticus throughout the novel. For example, they complain that Atticus is too old, that he can't do anything that other fathers do such as play football, and that he has a boring job. Scout also complains about school and the growing pains that come with the school experience, while Jem complains about having to read to Miss Dubose after ruining her flower beds.
Atticus' main response to his children in any of these situations is always one of learning. For example in response to Scout's complaints about school and trying to understand her teacher, Miss Caroline Fisher, her classmates, Walter Cunningham and Burris Ewell, Atticus tells her in chapter 3,
“First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—“
“—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Similarly, Atticus uses this same concept with Jem in regard to Mrs. Dubose. Thus, as part of Jem's growing experience he learns that it must have been painfully difficult for Mrs. Dubose to refuse her morphine and die a painful death.
In another lesson, Atticus defines true courage as knowing you are defeated before you begin, but seeing it through to the end anyway. Jem applies this lesson to both Mrs. Dubose and his lack of understanding to Atticus' persistence in defending Tom Robinson.
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