In To Kill a Mockingbird, why are the Scout and Jem initially ashamed of Atticus?

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Scout and Jem think Atticus is boring because, until he shoots the mad dog, they do not realize everything he can do and how important he is to the town.

Like most children, Scout and Jem are overly critical of their father. He is older than the fathers of most of their friends and neighbors. They find him boring. Scout says he is “satisfactory” when she first introduces him. This is hardly a glowing endorsement. As Scout gets older, she begins to think of her father as old.

Atticus was feeble: he was nearly fifty. When Jem and I asked him why he was so old, he said he got started late, which we felt reflected upon his abilities and manliness. He was much older than the parents of our school contemporaries, and there was nothing Jem or I could say about him when our classmates said, “My father—” (Chapter 10)

When the mad dog appears, the children realize there is more to their father. Atticus is the only person in the town who can take care of the dog, including the sheriff. The children had no idea their father was known as “One-Shot Finch.”

When the rabid dog comes onto their street, Sheriff Heck Tate is called. He knows the dog needs to be taken down in one shot because it is extremely dangerous. He gives the gun to Atticus.

“For God’s sake, Mr. Finch, look where he is! Miss and you’ll go straight into the Radley house! I can’t shoot that well and you know it!”

“I haven’t shot a gun in thirty years—”

Mr. Tate almost threw the rifle at Atticus. “I’d feel mighty comfortable if you did now,” he said (Chapter 10).

After this incident, the children have more appreciation for their father. They realize he has hidden talents he never mentioned to them. They also realize the people of Maycomb, such as Sheriff Tate, have a great deal of respect for Atticus. During the trial, they will see more of Atticus's talents as he is in the same position again, protecting Maycomb and doing the job no one else can or will do.

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