What is the symbolism of the dog in To Kill a Mockingbird?

The rabid dog in To Kill a Mockingbird symbolizes the madness that threatens Atticus and the Finch family. This larger madness is the prejudice and racism infecting the town, which Atticus refers to as Maycomb's "usual disease." The symbolism of the dog is extended further when Atticus is forced to shoot the dog to protect his loved ones, even though he is reluctant to do so. This reflects the idea in the novel that some actions that may be difficult are also moral imperatives, such as Atticus's decision to defend Tom Robinson.

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Atticus has to be persuaded to meet the dog.  He sees that the dog is clearly a danger to his family and the public, and further appears to be in great misery.  The important point is that Atticus is reluctant (a) to hurt the dog; (b) to demonstrate his marksmanship;...

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Atticus has to be persuaded to meet the dog.  He sees that the dog is clearly a danger to his family and the public, and further appears to be in great misery.  The important point is that Atticus is reluctant (a) to hurt the dog; (b) to demonstrate his marksmanship; and, I suspect, (c) to appear as a public hero.  Before shooting the dog he takes off his glasses; afterward, he grinds them underfoot.  I see two messages here: first, Atticus is ashamed to hide behind his glasses; second, he is distressed about having to fire a weapon close to home and having to appear as a hero.  Atticus is aware that he really is a warrior hero and is conflicted in that he is ashamed of his heroism.  His confidence and his willingness to go into danger are part of his motivation for defending Tom Robinson against a public opinion that is repugnant to him.

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I agree with the others.  I put Ol' Tim Johnson in the category of a foreshadowing, as well.  Here he is, just livin' his happy dog life when he's struck with hydrophobia.  However he got it, it's nothing he did deliberately, and it's not really his fault.  What happens after he gets it isn't particularly his fault, either.  That makes him kind of a mockingbird, symbolically.  Atticus has no choice--the dog is mad and must be killed, foreshadowing the death of another mockingbird symbol, Tom. 

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The afflicted dog in To Kill A Mockingbird is a representation of larger and more abstract approaching danger. The dog starts at the end of the Finch's long street, and twists, writhes, and seizes his way toward them, frothing at the mouth all the while. Calpurnia alerts Atticus to the danger, and in turn, he shows up to remedy the situation, though not without some prodding from Sheriff Heck Tate. Atticus is indeed the best shot in town, according to the sheriff, but he has had no reason to use his gifts of marksmanship in recent years. When the dangerous dog (and the danger of the situation in Maycomb) get too close for comfort, Atticus dispatches the dog in a single shot, a representation of his expedient and efficient handling of the larger "dangers" that confront his family in the story.

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The mad dog in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is symbolic of a few things.  First, the mad dog represents the "madness" that Atticus has to face now that he has taken on Tom Robinson's case.  The community has rallied against Atticus because they believe that Robinson is guilty simply because he is black.  Throughout the book, the Finch family has to buffer themselves against this racism (i.e. fighting off the mob).  So the mad dog represents the community's madness that is based on racism.  Further, the mad dog (and the scene surrounding him) is symbolic of Atticus's strength and resolve and his desire to protect his family.  When the mad dog threatens his family, he immediately grabs a rifle and shoots the dog.  The children are surprised by this because normally Atticus is very calm and laid back.  However, he is a good shot, and the dog dies quickly.  This scene shows that Atticus will do anything to protect his family from the madness around them.

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