What lesson does Scout teach Uncle Jack in To Kill a Mockingbird about children, and what further lesson does Atticus add? 

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tmcquade eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Uncle Jack learns two important lessons about children at the end of chapter 8 in To Kill a Mockingbird.  The first is taught to him by Scout; the second, by Atticus.

The first lesson comes about as a result of Uncle Jack breaking up a fight between Scout and her cousin, Francis.  Scout pummels Francis after he calls Atticus a "Nigger-lover" (Lee 88).  When Aunt Alexandra and Uncle Jack break up the fight, he asks "Who started this?" and Francis points at Scout and says, "She called me a whore lady and jumped on me" (89).  Jack immediately punishes Scout, who shouts back that she will never speak to him again.

When Jack comes to her room later that night to try to make amends, Scout explains why she got so angry:

"You ain't fair ... you ain't fair.... In the first place you never stopped to gimme a chance to tell you my side of it - you just lit right into me.  When Jem an' I fuss Atticus doesn't ever just listen to Jem's side of it, he hears mine too, an' in the second place you told me never to use words like that except in ex-extreme provocation, and Francis provocated me enough to knock his block off -" (90).

Scout goes on to explain what Francis had said about Atticus, and Jack quickly determines that Francis is the one who should be punished.  Scout, however, tells him to let it go, asks him not to tell Atticus what she has said, and changes the subject by asking him what a "whore-lady" is.  To this, Jack responds with a long winded answer that completely avoids the question.

This is where the second lesson comes in.  When Jack tells Atticus about Scout's question and his response, Atticus says:

"You've a lot to learn, Jack.... When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness' sake.  But don't make a production of it.  Children are children, but they can spot an evasion quicker than adults, and evasion simply muddles 'em" (92).

Once again, Atticus shows his wisdom in how he approaches raising his children.  He is frank, forthright, and respectful of both their feelings and intelligence.  Jack, chastised, is left to ponder the lessons he has learned.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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