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A young girl named Scout is the narrator of To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee; because she is young, Scout does not always fully understand things people say. One of the people who helps Scout understand the most important lessons in life, in addition to her father, is Miss Maudie Atkinson, the neighbor woman who lives across the street.
By chapter five of the novel, the author has established Miss Maudie as a credible, sensible, and reliable character (unlike some of the other characters in Maycomb); so what she says carries great weight both with Scout and with the readers. In addition to teaching Scout (as well as Jem and Dill) manners and respect, Miss Maudie teaches Scout several important truths about her father (Atticus) in this chapter.
The first concerns being judgmental. The "foot-washin' Baptists" routinely criticize Miss Maudie for loving her flower garden; they condemn her for admiring beauty, but Miss Maudie is not deterred. When Scout asks her about it, the older woman tries to explain.
“You are too young to understand it,” she said, “but sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of—oh, of your father.” I [Scout] was shocked. “Atticus doesn’t drink whiskey,” I said. “He never drunk a drop in his life—nome, yes he did. He said he drank some one time and didn’t like it.”
Obviously Scout does not understand what Miss Maudie is trying to say, so she goes on to explain it in a way that Scout will understand:
Miss Maudie laughed. “Wasn’t talking about your father,” she said. “What I meant was, if Atticus Finch drank until he was drunk he wouldn’t be as hard as some men are at their best. There are just some kind of men who—who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.”
This is a significant quote because, in addition to condemning "religiosity," it highlights the non-judgmental character of Atticus Finch, something which will be significant to know about him as the novel progresses.
Another important quote from Miss Maudie also reflects Atticus's excellent and steady character. She tells Scout that "Atticus Finch is the same in his house as he is on the public streets." This truth does not seem particularly significant to Scout; but again, readers and others who have lived long enough all know this is not always the case. This quote is a tribute to Atticus and prepares us for the trials (one of them literal) which are imminent. Whatever we see and hear Atticus say to his children is the same thing we will hear from him in the courtroom.
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