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One of the most interesting storylines in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is the evolution of Jem and Scout’s attitude toward their father, Atticus Finch. Part of the irony of the story is evident in the mistaken belief of many people that they know what people are like when they don’t really understand a person or a situation at all. While this applies to adults as well as children, Lee uses her first person narrator, Scout, to demonstrate this fallibility through the eyes of a six-year-old tomboy.
In the beginning of chapter ten, Scout shows her immature world-view when she says:
Our father couldn’t do anything. He worked in an office, not in a drugstore. Atticus did not drive a dump-truck for the county, he was not the sheriff, he did not farm, work in a garage, or do anything that could possibly arouse the admiration of anyone.
Jem is also unhappy that Atticus, because of his age, will not play football with him.
Later in the chapter, however, Atticus does something that reveals how highly he is esteemed by others in the community. There is a mad dog (afflicted with rabies) walking through the neighborhood. Sheriff Tate has a rifle in his hands, but when he hands it to Atticus and asks him to shoot the dog, Scout and Jem watch with surprise. When Atticus actually shoots the dog dead, they are stunned, and Scout, showing how surprised they are at this event, reports that
Jem was paralyzed.
The children had never known that Atticus could do something as exciting and out of character as shoot a rifle with deadly accuracy—it just didn’t fit his demeanor.
Moments later, Miss Maudie (who serves as the female apologist for Atticus throughout the story), tells Scout and Jem:
Forgot to tell you the other day that besides playing the Jew’s Harp, Atticus Finch was the deadest shot in Maycomb County in his time.
For a few moments after this, Scout and Jem discuss why Atticus never told them about his shooting ability. We see that their attitude toward their father has changed at the end of the chapter when Jem, no longer judging Atticus in the same way, says:
Atticus is real old, but I wouldn’t care if he couldn’t do anything—I wound care if he couldn’t do a blessed thing.
Sheriff Tate’s action and Miss Maudie’s explanation have given Scout and Jem a new appreciation of their father.
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