In To Kill a Mockingbird, why does Uncle Jack tell Scout the story about Lord Melbourne?

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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This a humorous incident from Jem and Scout's visit to Finch's Landing at Christmas. After Scout tells Uncle Jack her side of the story in regard why she had hit Francis in the mouth, he takes her into the bathroom to gently clean and bandage her split knuckle. While he comforts her, Scout suddenly asks him, very innocently, "What's a whore-lady?" Taken completely by surprise and at a loss for words, Jack does not answer her question directly; instead, he tells her a very long story about nineteenth-century British Prime Minister Lord Melbourne, whose personal life was rather colorful. When Jack shares this episode with Atticus later, Atticus gives him a piece of advice in dealing with children:

Jack! When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness' sake. But don't make a production of it. Children are children, but they can spot an evasion quicker than adults, and evasion simply muddles 'em.

Atticus was right. Scout said that she thought her Uncle Jack was trying to give her an answer, "but he made no sense whatsoever."

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