What are passages in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird in which Atticus faces problems?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Atticus faces a number of different problems all throughout Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. His problems range from challenges raising his children to conflicts with his sister to facing ridicule for defending Tom Robinson.

One example of problems he faces as he raises his children concerns having difficulties guiding his children's behavior. Scout is particularly a problem child because she is a tomboy with a hot-headed temper. She very readily picks fist fights with anyone she feels has undermined either herself or a member of her family. Prior to Chapter 9, Atticus warns Scout that she needs to stop fighting and hold in her temper, saying she is "far too old and too big for such childish things." However, Chapter 9 begins with Scout forgetting his edict the moment Cecil Jacobs informs the students in the schoolyard that "Scout Finch's daddy defended niggers." Atticus warns Scout that she'll continue to be ridiculed for his decision to defend Tom Robinson and asks her to make the following promise:

You might hear some ugly talk about it at school, but do one thing for me if you will: you just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don't you let 'em get your goat. Try fighting with your head for a change ... it's a good one, even if it does resist learning. (Ch. 9)

Atticus asking Scout to promise him these things shows just how much he struggles to control her behavior and how much he is worried about her behavior in the future due to the tension his court case will add to her life.

When Atticus's sister Alexandra moves into the Finch household to help Atticus raise his children, Atticus begins having conflicts with her. One of their conflicts is because she doesn't agree with his need to keep Calpurnia in their lives. Since Aunt Alexandra is racist, she recoils at the thought of Calpurnia helping Atticus raise his children. When Aunt Alexandra moves into Atticus's home, one of the first things she does is beg Atticus to let Calpurnia go because Alexandra apparently thinks that, being African American, Calpurnia has been a bad influence on the children. A quarrel ensues between Atticus and Alexandra in which Atticus makes the following assertion:

Alexandra, Calpurnia's not leaving this house until she wants to. ... She's a faithful member of this family and you'll simply have to accept things the way they are. (Ch. 14)

The fact that he has to quarrel with his sister about who should remain in their lives and how his children should be raised shows that Aunt Alexandra's differences of opinion pose significant problems for Atticus.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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