According to Atticus, what is rape?Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird"

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Chapter 14 of "To Kill a Mockingbird," the children hear comments about their family when they go to town.  On Saturdays, as they "squirmed" their way through the crowds on the sidewalks, they would hear,

'There's his chillun,' or, 'Yonder's some Finches.'...'They c'n go loose and rape up the countryside for all of 'em who run this county care'

Referring to Atticus as one who "runs the countryside," a countrywoman implies the fear of black lust for "venerated white southern womanhood."  This emphasis upon fear as a defense to save the virtue of women was a common motif in old Southern culture.

When Scout returns home she candidly asks Atticus what rape is.  To this question, he sighs, and calmly responds that it is "carnal knowledge of a female by force and without consent."  Scout wonders why Calpurnia had become so upset when she had asked the maid the same question.  Atticus is curious as to why she and Jem walked home from church with Calpurnia, and the conversation takes another turn; scout has forgotten her question on rape because she is yet young.

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reader1234 | Student, Grade 9 | (Level 1) Honors

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scout also doesn't understand what he means when he says it, but it doesn't sound that bad to her so she doesn't ask any more questions because she wants to act grown up and pretend that she does understand.