What does Atticus think of insults like "nigger-lover"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

After Jem cuts the tops off of Mrs. Dubose's camellias because she has hurled insults at him about his father, saying he is no better than the Negroes that he works for, Atticus sends Jem to Mrs. Dubose's house to read to her for a month as punishment for his cutting her flowers.  When Scout accompanies him, Mrs. Dubose asks if he has brought his "dirty little sister."  While Jem reads Mrs. Dubose talks about her camellias, their father's n--loving propensities, and so forth.

One day Scout asks Atticus what a n-lover is.  Before he replies, Atticus looks "grave."  He asks her why she asks, and she says that Mrs. Dubose calls him that:

"Scout," said Atticus, "nigger-lover is just one of those terms that don't mean anything--like snot-nose.  It's hard to explain--ignorant, trashy people use it when they think somebosy's favoring Negroes over and above themselves.  It's slipped into usage with some people like ourselves, when they want a common ugly term to label somebody."

When Scout asks him if he really is one, Atticus replies, "I certainly am.  I do my best to love everybody."  He continues to explain that it is never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name.  It simply demonstrates how low that person really is, and the name does not hurt.  Atticus tells Scout to not let Mrs. Debose bother her.

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter 11, Scout hears her racist neighbor, Mrs. Dubose, call Atticus a "nigger-lover." Since Scout is only a child, she does not know the meaning of the racial slur and consults her father on the issue. When Scout asks Atticus what the term "nigger-lover" means, Atticus tells her that it is just one of those terms that doesn't mean anything. He proceeds to tell his daughter that it is a nasty term used by ignorant people who believe someone is favoring a Negro over and above themselves. Atticus tells Scout that it is essentially an ugly term to label somebody. Atticus is not concerned with the fact that people refer to him as a "nigger-lover," and he actually feels bad for the people who use that racial slur. Atticus is not ashamed of the man that he is and tells Scout that "it's never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows how poor that person is, it doesn't hurt you" (Lee 67).

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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