Why don't the children know that Atticus is a skilled marksman in To Kill a Mockingbird, and how do they feel when they find out?

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Atticus has chosen not to tell his children about his marksmanship skills which earned him the nickname of "Ol' One-Shot" when he was a youth. The peaceful and humane Atticus has put aside the gun, and he does not like the idea of killing any living thing. He agrees to give his children the air rifles as Christmas presents because he knows they want them badly, and because he, too, had learned to shoot when he was young; but he refuses to teach Jem and Scout how to use them, leaving that responsibility to his brother Jack. Atticus warns Jem that he can "Shoot all the blue jays you want... but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird." Atticus keeps this secret until the day he is forced to shoot the mad dog, and the children witness this unknown talent with their own eyes. First Sheriff Tate hints at Atticus's old skill before Miss Maudie explains about his old nickname. When Scout wonders aloud why Atticus has never told them, Maudie explains that this "gift of God... had given him an unfair advantage over most living things." Scout still believes Atticus should "be proud of it," but Maudie assures her that

     "People in their right minds never take pride in their talents."  (Chapter 10)

Scout can't wait to brag about Atticus's feat at school on Monday, but Jem tells her to keep quiet, recognizing that "If he was proud of it, he'da told us." Jem is bursting with pride, loudly proclaiming that

"Atticus is a gentleman, just like me!"  (Chapter 10)

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the beginning of chapter 10, Scout laments about how Atticus is old, uninteresting, and talentless. Later on, a rabid dog named Tim Johnson staggers down the street, and Sheriff Tate and Atticus arrive at the scene. Sheriff Tate then gives his rifle to Atticus, who shoots and kills the rabid dog in one shot. Both Scout and Jem are in awe of their father's marksmanship, and Miss Maudie tells them that Atticus's nickname growing up was Ol‘ One-Shot. When Jem asks Maudie why Atticus never told them about his talent, Maudie responds by saying,

"People in their right minds never take pride in their talents." (102)

Essentially, Atticus is a humble man, who chooses not to brag about his marksmanship ability. He views his talent as a gift from God and refuses to hunt because he believes that God has given him an "unfair advantage over most living things." Jem is left speechless after witnessing his father's talent, and Scout says that she cannot wait to brag to her friends about Atticus's marksmanship. However, Jem learns the valuable lesson of humility and integrity from his father and encourages Scout not to brag about Atticus's talent. 

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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