In 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' what lessons does Atticus atempt to teach Scout about the use of racial slurs?Language is powerful, as the novel shows. The language of children, the eloquence of...

In 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' what lessons does Atticus atempt to teach Scout about the use of racial slurs?

Language is powerful, as the novel shows. The language of children, the eloquence of Atticus, and the languge of the townspeople reflect their attitudes and often their prejudices. Comment.

Expert Answers
gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In chapter 11, Scout asks her father the meaning of the racial slur, "nigger-lover." Atticus responds by telling his daughter,

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 somebody’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 (Lee, 112).

After discouraging his daughter from using the term, Atticus explains to Scout how he attempts to love everybody, regardless of their race. He proceeds to explain to his daughter that using the racial slur says more about the person speaking than it does the person it is directed toward. Atticus tells Scout:

It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you (Lee, 112).

Throughout the novel, Atticus continually assumes the role of the voice of reason and directly addresses controversial issues without hesitation. He is an articulate, educated man, who has the unique ability to communicate with professionals and uneducated townspeople alike. Atticus's education and perspective allow him to sympathize with people of different races, genders, and ethnicities. In contrast, the majority of the townspeople speak informally and continually use racial slurs, which reveals their prejudice. The children are naive and express both Atticus's empathy as well as the townspeople's prejudice toward the beginning of the novel. However, the children become more influenced by their father's rhetoric as the novel progresses.

parkerlee eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Atticus sends the ball back in the far side of the court, so to speak, when he turns the word "nigger-lover" (a slur name he has been called) into something positive.

Atticus explains to the children that indeed he loves Negroes as one should love and respect all men and not just a select few. Atticus changes the connotation of the word to adhere to its denotation, its literal definition void of highly-charged emotional insinuations.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question