Explain Atticus's statement about the use of the word "nigger" in To Kill a Mockingbird.

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Scout has picked up a new word at school, as all children will, but it is not one that Atticus uses nor does he plan to allow his children to voice it in his presence. It is the "N" word, and when Scout asks Atticus if he "defend(s) niggers," Atticus tells her

     "Of course I do. Don't say nigger, Scout. That's common."  (Chapter 9)

When Scout defends herself by claiming that all of her classmates say it, Atticus responds,

     "From now on it'll be everybody less one--"  (Chapter 9)

The "N" word is commonly used in TKAM, just as it would have been in Alabama during the 1930s. The "N" word sometimes takes on a hateful tone, as when Bob Ewell describes Tom as " 'that black nigger yonder." It is used in jest (Miss Stephanie's bad joke about a "white nigger"); by Negroes themselves (Lula, Tom); and by children who don't always understand the full impact of the word. As the quintessential literary liberal Southern gentleman, Atticus never uses the "N" word, preferring the more acceptable "colored" or "Negro," and he plans to see that Jem and Scout follow suit.

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