What is the "near libel" which Jem puts in the front yard in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Excited by their first sight of snow, Jem and Scout busily begin building their first snowman in the front yard. They soon recognized that there wouldn't be enough snow for a full-sized snowman, so Jem came up with a novel idea: He would use the hard, wet mud for the inside, and use the meager amount of snow on the outside. At first, the snowman looked like Miss "Stephanie Crawford with her hands on her hips." With "his eyes twinkling," Jem decided to alter its appearance to look like their neighbor, Mr. Avery, since he was "sort of shaped like a snowman." Atticus loved their creation, and he

... squinted at the snowman a while. He grinned, then laughed... You've perpetrated a near libel here in the front yard. We've got to disguise this fellow... You can't go around making caricatures of the neighbors."

It was Atticus's way of explaining the problem in a legal sense. The snowman looked so much like Mr. Avery that he knew others would recognize it--as well as Mr. Avery--and be amused, at the expense of their neighbor. So, Jem added Miss Maudie's sunhat and a pair of hedge-clippers, and soon the Mr. Avery snowman was recognizable. When Miss Maudie saw it, she unknowingly gave it a new name: The Morphodite snowman.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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