To Kill a Mockingbird Questions and Answers
by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird book cover
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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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mike-krupp eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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...

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zumba96 | Student

No one knows Atticus is so skilled at a gun but he does not want to be seen as a hero after hurting the dog. While the dog poses a danger to society, this could be expanded to the white folk and racism. The dog poses a danger to society while the racist white folk pose a danger to society because they will corrupt the thinking of others. 

isabellabella3 | Student

Atticus Finch was the only person that could kill the dog - the disease of racsim.

lmmayo1 | Student

I agree that the dog represents the madness of Maycomb surrounding the Finch family. I also think the subject of Atticus' secret of his shooting skill is important. This is when Jem and Scout truly separate. When Scout wants to brag to everyone at school about her father's skill, Jem feels it's not important for everyone to know. This is such an important lesson for Jem and Scout. My students love class discussion about why Atticus has kept this a secret. It also ties in with the guns for Christmas gifts and that he wants Uncle Jack to teach them how to shoot. His lesson is that being able to shoot a gun does not make him a man. How he lives is his life does.

rajashreeanand | Student

A mad dog can be an extremely harmful creature because it has simply lost control of its senses and actions. Its portentous nature forces society to eliminate it.

Using this imagery, Harper Lee forecasts the struggle that is about to unfold in the narrative of the story. The madness that is well spread across society is clearly apartheid. It must be controlled or it will lead to complete destruction of hope for the innocent blacks.

There is no room for such dangers and destructive forces in society.  The one to exterminate this fear is Atticus . The act of shooting the mad dog proves that it is Atticus who will take that step to ensure that justice will ensue. He has complete control of the situation and with a precise bullet shot he vanquishes any fear lurking in the city. This is later clarified in his powerful arguments against injustice in the court.