Atticus has tried to prepare his children for the public reaction to his decision to defend Tom Robinson, the black man accused of raping a white woman. He has coaxed Scout into tempering her love of fighting, assuring her that she is "far too old and too big for such childish things." Jem learns his lesson about controlling his temper after having to spend a month with Mrs. Dubose as punishment for destroying her camellias. But Atticus knows that things will only get worse. Scout overhears Atticus telling her Uncle Jack that
"You know what's going to happen as well as I do, Jack, and I hope and pray I can get Jem and Scout through it without bitterness... without catching Maycomb's usual disease... I just hope that Jem and Scout come to see me for their answers instead of listening to the town." (Chapter 9)
But it was impossible for Jem and Scout to ignore the "observations" made by the people of Maycomb when they headed downtown. It was obvious that Atticus was the talk of the town, and that his children were more recognizable than usual. They heard their names--"There's his chillun,'" or "Yonder's some Finches"--but when the children turned to "face our accusers," there were only anonymous bystanders on the sidewalk. And when one "skinny gentleman" was overheard claiming that "They c'n go loose and rape up the countryside for all of 'em who run this county care," Scout had to seek out Atticus for a definition of "rape." Scout still didn't understand the full implication of her father's defense of Tom Robinson, but she and Jem were both learning to hold their tongues (and fists) and consider the sources of the criticism.