Explain the significance of Atticus shooting the mad dog, Tim Johnson, in To Kill a Mockingbird.

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In addition to recognizing that their father was not "feeble," inadequate and unmanly, the killing of the mad dog served to teach Jem and Scout the definition of humility. Jem wonders aloud why Atticus had never told them about his marksmanship skills, thinking that "he'd be proud of it." Miss Maudie explains to the children that

"People in their right minds never take pride in their talents..."

She explained that God-given talents are an uncontrollable human trait and, in Atticus' case, he was actually ashamed of his ability to kill with such precision. Jem understands his father's reaction, and warns Scout not to tell any of her classmates at school since

"If he was proud of it, he'd'a told us."

Jem recognizes that this is a gentlemanly attribute that he also wants to emulate.

"Atticus is a gentleman, just like me!"
lhc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The incident with the mad dog created a fundamental shift in the way Jem and Scout, particularly Jem, viewed their father.  They found out that Atticus had at one time been an excellent shooter, the best in the county; they were incredulous, because Atticus, being the oldest father among kids their age, might as well have been one hundred years old, and since he wouldn't play rough sports like football, they viewed him as pretty worthless.  As far as Jem and Scout were concerned, the sum total of Atticus's skills as a human being were practicing law and reading.  However, when he managed to kill the rabid dog in one very accurate shot, and Miss Maudie set them straight on his shooting reputation as a young man, they were no longer ashamed of their father's perceived inadequacy. 

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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