To Kill a Mockingbird Questions and Answers
by Harper Lee

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How did Atticus Finch, Mrs. Dubose, and Calpurnia lead hidden lives?

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Atticus Finch hides his skill as a sharpshooter. It is not until a rabid dog appears on the streets of Maycomb that Scout and Jem learn how skillful their father is with a gun. He is able to shoot and kill the dog with one shot. This is especially a welcome revelation to Scout, who has been feeling her father, an older parent, has nothing to offer against the seemingly more active and competent parents of her schoolmates. When she asks him why he kept his shooting skill a secret, he explains to her that he doesn't want to flaunt a talent that is a gift from God.

Mrs. Dubose is hiding a morphine addiction. The children think she is simply a mean old woman who criticizes them and tells them they will amount to nothing. Jem finally gets so angry at Mrs. Dubose that he uses Scout's new baton to knock the heads off her camellias. In response, Atticus has them spend time with her. It is only after she dies that Scout and Jem learn she was battling an addiction. Atticus says to them of Mrs. Dubose:

I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.

When Scout and Jem go to church with Calpurnia, Scout learns that Calpurnia has a life apart from their household. She is embedded in the black community and even speaks in black dialect at church, rather than the standard English she uses in the Finch home. Scout thinks:

That Calpurnia led a modest double life never dawned on me. The idea that she had a separate existence outside our household was a novel one, to say nothing of her having command of two languages.

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amm6837 | Student

Atticus Finch's hidden life is revealed when the dog goes mad and Atticus must put him down: he was once known as "the deadest shot in all Maycomb County," which was hidden since Jem and Scout had never before seen him shoot a gun.

Mrs. Dubose uses her harsh demeanor to hide her ill health and a serious addiction to morphine, which is only revealed to Scout and Jem by Atticus following her death.

Calpurnia's hidden life is revealed when she takes Jem and Scout to church with her. Before this event, both children saw a well-educated woman who spoke well and who was set apart from other blacks in the community. That is, until they see the way she behaves at her own church, and the way she speaks, which is far less polished than the way they are accustomed to hearing, making clear the divide between people in Maycomb County based upon race.

These so-called 'hidden' lives are not exactly secret to most, and simply may seem that way because of the identity of the narrator, Scout, a young girl who is still learning the ways of the world. These certain aspects of these characters' lives are not hidden from the rest of the community. Atticus is aware of Mrs. Dubose's illness, Miss Maudie and other residents of the town are aware of Atticus's marksmanship, and the members of Calupurnia's church see nothing amiss with her behavior. While these may not be actively shared between people, they seem to only be hidden due to Jem and Scout's ages.