How does Atticus explain to Scout why he has decided to defend Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird?What's Scout's reaction?

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Toward the beginning of chapter 9, Cecil Jacobs tells the entire playground that Scout's father defends niggers, which upsets and confuses Scout. Later that night, Scout tells Atticus what happened at school and asks him about it. Atticus goes on to explain to Scout that he is defending an African American man named Tom Robinson and admits that there has been some "high talk" around the town about his decision. When Scout asks why Atticus is defending Tom against the community's wishes, Atticus responds by saying,

"For a number of reasons . . . The main one is, if I didn’t I couldn’t hold up my head in town, I couldn’t represent this county in the legislature, I couldn’t even tell you or Jem not to do something again." (Lee, 78)

Atticus then encourages Scout to try her best to ignore the negative remarks and refrain from fighting others. Atticus also explains to Scout that even though he knows that he will not win the case, he is going to try his best to defend Tom Robinson. Atticus ends the conversation by telling Scout,

"This time we aren’t fighting the Yankees, we’re fighting our friends. But remember this, no matter how bitter things get, they’re still our friends and this is still our home." (79)

Scout is receptive to her father's explanation and tries her best to control her anger. The next day, Scout demonstrates her self-control by walking away after Cecil Jacobs continues to criticize Atticus.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Atticus has many reasons for deciding to defend Tom Robinson in Harper Lee's novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, but "the main one is, if I didn't I couldn't hold my head up in this town." Scout has nearly found herself fighting again, this time with Cecil Jacobs over his claim that Atticus "defended niggers." So, Scout asks Atticus directly. After scolding her not to use the "N" word--"That's common"--he explains why he has undertaken the unpopular decision to defend Robinson, a black man, at his trial for raping a white woman.

"I couldn't represent this county in the legislature, I couldn't even tell you or Jem not to do something again... I could never ask you to mind me again... every lawyer gets at least one case in his lifetime that affects him personally. This one's mine, I guess."

Scout also discovers on the day of the trial that Atticus did not volunteer to defend Tom: He was asked by Judge Taylor himself.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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