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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee
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Does Scout Learn Anything From Overhearing Atticus Conversation With Uncle Jack

Does Scout learn anything from overhearing Atticus's conversation with Uncle Jack in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird?

From overhearing Atticus's conversation with Uncle Jack, Scout learns that even adults make mistakes sometimes, and they don't always have all the answers. Scout also learns that both men are deeply principled, willing to stand up for their beliefs even when it creates conflict with others around them.

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One thing Scout learns is that adults don't have all the answers. In Jack's conversation with Atticus, he tells his brother that he actually learned a few things from Scout about how he could have handled the conversation better. Thus, she also learns that her uncle is willing to admit he's made a mistake when the situation warrants doing so. And her uncle remains true to his word, not telling Atticus the real reason Scout fought with Francis, just as Scout had requested. Therefore, she learns that she can trust Uncle Jack, even if he did jump to conclusions and punish her unfairly earlier. This goes a long way in repairing any tears in the seams of their relationship.

Scout also learns a few things about her father. She learns that Atticus is aware of the impending conflict Scout might face because of his role as Tom's defense attorney, and he is trying to guide his children through this tough situation by teaching them the proper ways they should respond to the certain conflict which awaits them. She also learns that her father thinks that the principles of this trial are important enough that he's willing to risk exposing his children to some temporary societal discomforts so that they don't catch "Maycomb's usual disease."

In short, Scout learns that both her uncle and her father are men of principle and can be depended upon for wisdom in tough situations—even if, like Uncle Jack, they falter from time to time.

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Scout learns how Atticus sees her and what he thinks of Tom Robinson when she eavesdrops on his conversation. 

Scout goes downstairs for a drink of water and overhears a conversation between Atticus and her Uncle Jack. While Jack and Atticus discuss the events of the day, Atticus tells Jack he dealt with Scout's fight correctly. He explains that she's hotheaded and quick to act on an insult, but that he knows she tries. Atticus believes that while using bad language is a phase, hotheadedness isn't—and he says that Scout needs to learn to control it.

When Uncle Jack asks how bad things are going to get with Tom Robinson's case, Atticus confesses, "it couldn't be worse." He says that the jury won't take the word of a black man over that of a white family, the Ewells. Atticus also says that he didn't want the case, but the judge assigned it to him—and he thinks Tom might have a chance on appeal.

Atticus also says that he hopes his children will come to him for answers as the controversy increases. He explains to Jack that even reasonable people in Maycomb go "stark raving mad" when anything involving a black person comes up. Then he stops and says Scout's name, telling her to go to bed.

Scout says she didn't know how Atticus knew she was there. She continues, "It was not until many years later that I realized he wanted me to hear every word he said."

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Towards the end of Chapter 9, Scout wanders down the hall and overhears Uncle Jack talking to Atticus. Scout listens as Atticus tells Jack that he must be honest with children and answer them directly when they ask questions. Atticus also mentions that Scout needs to control her temper. Scout realizes the extent of her father's honesty and learns that she needs to do a better job of controlling her anger. Jack then asks Atticus how he thinks his case is going, and Atticus tells Jack that it couldn't possibly be worse. Scout listens as Atticus explains that he intends to "jar the jury," and discloses his reasons for defending Tom. Atticus also says that he hopes his children come to him for answers instead of listening to their racist community members. Scout mentions that many years later she realized that Atticus wanted her to hear every word of his conversation with Jack. Overall, Scout learns that she needs to control her temper and go to her father for advice. She also learns that Atticus has a moral obligation to defend Tom Robinson. 

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In Chapter 9 of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout learns a great deal from eavesdropping on the conversation between her father and her Uncle Jack.

First, she learned that, in general, Atticus trusts her to try and do the right thing. Second, she learned that her biggest problem is being hotheaded. As Atticus explains, her "hotheadedness" is likely to cause her more problems during the course of the trial because more people will continue to insult her and her father. As Atticus phrases it, "Scout's got to learn to keep her head and learn soon."

Next, she learns about her father's feelings concerning Tom Robinson's case. She learns he feels the case will be difficult because all he really has is "Robinson's word against the Ewells'"; yet, he thinks he'll be successful in challenging the verdict with an appeal. More importantly, Scout gets to hear Atticus wonder at the town's prejudices and say he hopes Jem and Scout will trust him enough to learn his thoughts on Robinson's guilt rather than the town's thoughts.

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From overhearing her father and Uncle Jack discussing Atticus's having accepted the role of defense attorney in the case against Tom Robinson, Scout truly comprehends the meaning of Miss Maudie's description of her father as "...the same inside his house as he is on the public streets." Also, she learns of "Maycomb's usual disease" and how her father wants his children to ignore the gossip.

In Chapter 9 Scout listens from around the corner as Atticus talks to his younger brother, who asks Atticus if he could not get out of taking the Robinson case. Atticus replies that he really has no choice: " you think I could face my children otherwise?" For, if he refused the case when it was given to him by Judge Taylor, Atticus would have displayed hypocrisy as he has always expressed the idea that everyone should be treated fairly.

Then, Jack asks of this forthcoming trial, " bad is this going to be?" and Atticus responds,

"It couldn't be worse, Jack. The only thing we've got is a black man's word against the Ewells'....The evidence boils down to you-did--I-didn't. The jury couldn't possibly be expected to take Tom Robinson's word against the Ewells'...."

Atticus expresses his despair of winning, but he believes that he will have "a reasonable chance" on appeal. A little later, Atticus voices his wish that Jem and Scout will not listen to the townspeople's gossip about this trial. In addition, he hopes that they will come to him and trust him.


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