In To Kill a Mockingbird, what are details of the impact on the children of Atticus's taking the job of the defender in Tom Robinsons case.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

After Atticus Finch agrees to act as the public defender for Tom Robinson, Scout and Jem witness changing attitudes in many of the people they know, as well as in themselves.

  1. When Cecil Jacobs, who lives at the end of their street, calls Atticus a "n--lover," Scout is greatly angered and asks her father about the meaning of the phrase.  He informs her that it is vulgar and only spoken by "common," or low-class people. But, her cousin Francis, also repeats this phrase and Scout fights him.
  2. Later, Scout overhears Atticus talking with Uncle Jack, the father of Francis; to his brother, Atticus explains that he must take the job of defender or else he cannot face his children because he has always tried to prevent their catching "Maycomb's usual disease." For, earlier he has told Scout that this case goes to the "essence of a man's conscience." 
  3. Mrs. Dubose "hounds" Jem about her camellias and tells him that his father "is no better than the n--- and trash he works for!"  With this insult, the loyal Jem retaliates by cutting off the heads of the camellias and is, consequently, punished.  Having heard their father insulted repeatedly, the children do not fully understand why he has taken the Tom Robinson case, but they witness his just and polite treatment of all involved in the case as well as his charitable kindness to the ailing Mrs. Dubose. Jem is made to read to her as punishment, but he learns that Mrs. Dubose has suffered from morphine addiction and courageously battled it.
  4. The children witness their father's integrity drawn into question when the more prominent citizens in Maycomb question Atticus's insistence upon defending Tom Robinson fairly. However, they respond with loyalty to him as Jem tries to call his inside to answer the phone.
  5. The children find their father threatened at the jailhouse as he protects Tom Robinson from being taken captive by an angry mob. During this scene, Scout is able to diffuse the tension by addressing Mr. Cunningham as an individual.  She, therefore, learns of mob mentality as opposed to individual thinking.
  6. While Atticus has been subjected to insults, he demonstrates absolute fairness and justice to all the witnesses, speaking with politeness and professionalism to them.  During the Robinson trial, Scout and Jem are able to observe their father's abilities as well as his sense of fair play and consideration for people's feelings. He, thus, teaches them more through his example.
  7. At the same time, the children are also affected by the tension that the trial causes at home.  At home their aunt Alexandra stays in order to lend moral support to Atticus, but she also causes Atticus to become strained in his relationship with her and with his children as well as his maid Calpurnia, whom he explains, is part of the family, not just a servant. 
  8. After the trial is over, Scout and Jem learn the injustices of life as Tom tries to run and is killed while Bob Ewell and Mayella suffer no repercussions for their treacherous perjury.
  9. Later, the children also learn that Bob Ewell has insulted Atticus and spat in his face.  When Atticus turns the figurative cheek, Scout is amazed by the Christianity of her father. However, she and Jem suffer from Atticus's failure to fight Bob Ewell because he attacks the children on their way home from a school play.  Fortunately, Boo Radley comes to their rescue and Scout changes her perception of Boo, along with experiencing much maturation:

    Atticus was right . One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.


  10. Scott overcomes her fears of "haints" and ghosts. She has learned a new respect for Boo Radley and for her father who has exhibited much valor and courage during the preparation and the actual trial of Tom Robinson. Jem, too, has matured and will always have a reminder of his attack as his left arm is slightly shorter than his right.
Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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