How does Atticus describe the phrase "nigger-lover" to his children in To Kill a Mockingbird?  

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

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This subject first arises in Chapter 9 when Atticus cautions Scout about using the word "nigger." He calls it "common," and warns her not to use it anymore. When Scout objects, telling him that all the kids at school say it, Atticus tells her that

     "From now on, it'll be everybody less one."

After Jem and Scout have endured insults from Mrs. Dubose, Scout asks Atticus what the term "nigger-lover" means. She tells him that Francis called him that at Christmas, prompting the fight between the two cousins. Atticus explains that it is a "common, ugly term to label people," and he admits to being one.

     "I certainly am. I do my best to love everybody..."

He defines the racial epithet as

"... one of those terms that don't mean anything--like snot-nose... ignorant, trashy people use it when they think somebody's favoring Negroes over and above themselves."

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tinicraw | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Atticus's daughter Scout hears the phrase "nigger-lover" in different forms from almost everyone in Maycomb. First, her schoolmate Cecil Jacobs announces to everyone at school that Scout's father "defended niggers" (74). When Scout asks Atticus if this is true, he tells her not to use the offending word because it is "common" (75). Next, Scout's cousin Francis tells her that Aunt Alexandra calls Atticus a "nigger-lover" and that "he's ruinin' the family" (83). Rather than tell her father about this incident, she decides to beat her cousin up. Then, Mrs. Dubose, an elderly neighbor down the street, also calls Atticus this horrible name to his children in chapter 11. When Scout finally asks her father about the phrase, she's a little bit downtrodden. She feels as though this vulgar expression is worse than calling someone "snot-nose." Atticus's protective response to Scout is as follows:

"Scout . . . nigger-lover is just one of those terms that don't mean anything--like snot-nose. It's hard to explain--ignorant, trashy people use it when they think somebody's favoring Negroes over and above themselves. It's slipped into usage with some people like ourselves, when they want a common, ugly term to label somebody" (108).

Atticus says that the phrase is only used by people who search for ways to label people. This might still be confusing for a seven-year-old girl to understand completely, but Atticus claims that he does his best to love everyone no matter what race they are. The best thing about Atticus is that he also does what he claims. Not only does he teach his daughter how things are, but he lives according to how he believes life should be. 

 

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