Why did Cecil Jacobs annoy Scout at school in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Cecil Jacobs, who lives at the far end of the street from the Finches, announces to the entire schoolyard one day that Scout Finch's father "defends n****rs." He makes this announcement to belittle Scout and to place himself in a position of superiority over her. He may also be reflecting his parents' desire to insult her father. 

Scout talks with her father that evening, asking why Cecil has made his statement with such an insulting tone. It is then that Atticus reveals that he is going to defend Tom Robinson in a "rather peculiar case." He adds that there has been gossip around town that he should not do much to defend this man. "It's a peculiar case," Atticus tells Scout, because he feels that she is too young to understand the nature of the accusations as well as the intentions of those making the charges. Finally, he encourages Scout to fight with her head and not her fists.

On the following day, Scout encounters Cecil in the schoolyard, daring him to retract his previous remark. "You gotta make me first!" Cecil retorts. "My folks said your daddy was a disgrace an' that n****r oughta hang from the water-tank!" As she is about to strike Cecil, Scout remembers her promise to Atticus. "It was the first time I ever walked away from a fight," she says. But, Scout recalls her promise, and she feels very noble for having remembered.

mrshh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Cecil Jacobs insulted Scout's father.  Scout was shocked by his words.  She later spoke to Atticus about it.  He reasoned with her and asked her not to fight.  Later, Scout confronted Cecil at school.  She told Cecil to take back his insults.  He refused and challenged her.  Scout clenched her fists, ready to fight.  Then she remembered the wishes of her father.  She knew that "somehow, if [she] fought Cecil [she] would let Atticus down" (To Kill a Mockingbird, Chapter 9).  It was because of this that Scout decided to turn around and walk the other way.  She continued to do so even when Cecil called her a coward.  After this incident, rumors went around school about Scout.  Other kids said that Scout would not fight because she was not allowed to.  She did not like to have a reputation of weakness, but she also respected her father's wishes.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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