What does the following quote from To Kill a Mockingbird mean? "It’s never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you."
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This quote is by Atticus, when he is informed by Scout that people like old Mrs Dubose have been calling him names. When Scout asks if he isn't really a 'nigger-lover', as Mrs Dubose accuses him of being, he responds:
I certainly am. I do my best to love everybody (chapter 11).
Atticus's reply shows what a calm and tolerant character he is. He accepts everyone, regardless of race, colour or creed; he turns the racist insults heaped on him into a compliment.
Atticus is pointing out that such accusations merely reflect back unfavourably on the accusers, showing them to be prejudiced, ignorant and narrow-minded. This is the sense in which these people are 'poor'; they are mean and impoverished in spirit and wholly deficient in understanding. Their insults do nothing to hurt enlightened, fair-minded people like Atticus.
Chapter 11 is the Mrs. Dubose chapter. Mrs. Dubose is an old woman who has no verbal filter when speaking with the Finch children. She tells Jem he's wild; she tells Scout she should be wearing a dress; she says the kids would be better off if their mother had lived; and she calls Atticus horrible names because he is defending a black man in court. This is a lot for the kids to bear, so Scout tells Atticus that Mrs. Dubose "warms up" each afternoon by calling him a "nigger-lover." Scout doesn't understand why anyone would want to attack her father in any way, so Atticus explains to her the following:
"I do my best to love everybody . . . I'm hard put, sometimes—baby it's never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn't hurt you. So don't let Mrs. Dubose get you down. She has enough troubles of her own" (106).
What Atticus means by this goes back to some of the first advice he ever gave his daughter about climbing into another's skin to try to understand them and why they behave the way they do. For example, if Scout were to jump into Mrs. Dubose's skin, she would see "how poor" she is because only people with sadness and hate inside of them have hate to share. Scout can learn a lot about a person by how they behave or what they say. This is why Atticus says that Mrs. Dubose has troubles of her own—because her troubles flow out of her mouth as attacks on Atticus. That's why he doesn't take offense. Atticus is the type of person who understands that there is more pain and anguish in judgmental people because there are more hurtful things going on inside of them that force them to take their frustrations out on others. In this way, judgmental people are "poor." They are poor because they have sadness inside them and can't find happiness around them. As a result, Atticus sees these people as experiencing much more suffering themselves than they might cause him with their insults.
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