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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, how does Atticus define "nigger-lover" to Scout?

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus explains the term "nigger-lover" to Scout by telling her that it's a term which common and "trashy" people use when they think someone favors Black people over white people. He clarifies that he does love Black people as much as he loves anyone else.

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Scout inquires about the meaning of this racial slur following one of Jem's reading sessions with Mrs. Dubose. Scout explains to Atticus that Mrs. Dubose regularly uses the slur and admits that Francis called him the same name at their family's Christmas gathering. Scout is too young and innocent to understand the meaning of the term but recognizes it as an insult. Atticus responds to Scout's inquiry by saying that the slur is similar to the term "snot-nose" and explains that ignorant, trashy people use it when they feel someone is favoring a Black person over themselves.

Atticus also tells his daughter that it is a common, ugly term to label somebody that says more about the person using the slur than the person it was directed at. Atticus is an exceptional parent who chooses to explain the explicit term without going into great detail or confusing his daughter. Scout responds by asking if he fits the label he was given, and Atticus proclaims that he certainly does and that he tries his best to love everybody, regardless of their race.

Atticus concludes by telling Scout that it is never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name, because it just proves how poor the person using the term is and doesn't hurt you in any way. Atticus then encourages Scout to hold her head high and not let Mrs. Dubose get her down. Atticus's explanation demonstrates his desire to protect his children from Maycomb's "usual disease."

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Scout first hears this term when Francis is talking about Atticus. She isn't sure what it means but knows that Francis is insulting her father. She gets so angry with Francis that she punches him.

Later, Scout and Jem are forced to spend time with Mrs. Dubose as punishment, and the old woman also uses this term to describe Atticus. Finally, Scout decides to just ask her father what it means.

Atticus asks Scout why she wants to know about the term. She tells him that it's the way people say it, and she can tell it's an insult, like "snot-nose or somethin'."

Atticus explains that ignorant people use the term when they think someone appreciates Black people over white people. He clarifies that it's an ugly phrase that some people use to label people. Scout asks her father whether he really is a "nigger-lover." Atticus says that he certainly is and that he believes he is called to love everyone. Atticus reminds Scout that being called a name isn't a reflection on the person who is insulted; instead, it is a reflection of how ignorant and "trashy" the person is who uses the term. Atticus encourages Scout to not let moments like this get her down.

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Towards the end of Chapter 11, Scout is having a conversation with her father and she asks him, "What exactly is a nigger-lover?" (Lee 144) Scout tells Atticus that Mrs. Dubose and Francis called him a "nigger-lover," and isn't sure what it means. Scout, who is only a child, does not understand that meaning of the racial epithet but knows that it is a derogatory term because it was used maliciously. Rather than explain the denotative meaning of the term, Atticus tells Scout that it has no actual meaning, and is an ugly phrase people use to label others. By not explaining the origins of the term, Atticus dismisses the phrase and successfully removes the negative power behind it. Atticus explains to Scout that usage of the term says more about the person saying it than it does about the person to whom it was directed. Atticus essentially gives Scout a lesson in tolerance towards people who use derogatory words and phrases by telling her to ignore their racial sentiments. Atticus admits that he is indeed a "nigger-lover" because he tries his best to love everybody. This scene portrays Atticus as a positive role-model to Scout and depicts her moral education.

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Scout has defended the honor of her father, when Francis had called Atticus this at Christmas. Scout didn't know what it meant, but she knew the way Francis said it, that it wasn't a compliment. She asks her father this question one night while they are reading.

"Scout" said Atticus, " nigger-lover is just one of those terms that don't mean anything- like snotnose. It's hard to explain- ignorant, trashy people use it when they think somebody's favouring Negroes over and above themselves. It's slipped into usage with some people like ourselves, when they want a common, ugly term to label somebody"

Atticus is so patient and understanding with his kids. He hates that his children are being exposed to the ugliness of the world. He has tried his best to protect Jem and Scout. Atticus taking the case of Tom Robbins is now opening the door for his children to be exposed to just how nasty people can be. 

Harper Lee shows us that there are real people in this world who will fight for justice, no matter what. Jem and Scout are learning that sometimes it is hard to stand up for what is right, but the cost is worth it. Atticus makes his children understand that doing the right thing is hard, but it is always best.

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In Chapter 11, Atticus tells Scout that  "nigger-lover is just one of those terms that don't mean anything...ignorant, trashy people use it when they think somebody's favoring Negroes over and above themselves...when they want a common, ugly term to label somebody".  Atticus goes on to say that he is indeed  "nigger-lover", because he does his best to love everybody. He counsels Scout that "it's never an insult to be called what someone thinks is a bad name...it just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn't hurt you".  Atticus means that when someone calls someone else by a derogatory name, it is more of a reflection of the name-callers poor character than it is a put-down of the person being called the name.

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, what does Lee show about Atticus' character when Scout asks him the meaning of the term "n****r lover"?

It reveals that Atticus is above the accepted social codes of Maycomb.  There now have been several instances where Atticus has been references like this.  Scout beat Cecil Jacobs up for a similar references.  Scout lets Francis have it at Christmas time when Francis called Atticus that (no doubt hearing it from Aunt Alexandra).  And now Miss Dubose adds to it.

Maycomb is deeply racist and set in those racist ways, so they feel Atticus should do very little to help Tom.  Furthermore, even attempting to help him is seen as unimaginable.  Yet, Atticus doesn't accept those beliefs.

All their lives Atticus has told the children to have empathy and compassion.  How could he not accept this burden?  This is scene when he explains to Scout that "N-lover is just one of those terms that don't mean anything -- like snot nose.  It's hard to explain -- ignorant trashy people use it when they think somebody's favoring Negroes over and above themselves" (108).  This is keeping in line with Atticus's ability to empathize with others.  He most certainly is putting Tom's welfare over his own.  Just look at the repercussions that affect Atticus and his family after the trial.

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, what does Lee show about Atticus' character when Scout asks him the meaning of the term "n****r lover"?

Lee gives us insight into the depth of Atticus' tolerance and his ability to maintain his own dignity and approach other people, even those who attack him, with understanding.  He says, "it's never an insult to be called what someone thinks is a bad name.  It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn't hurt you".  He says in actuality he really is a nigger-lover because he always does his best to love everybody, no matter what their race, and he counsels Scout not to let people who He says that when all is said and done, they do it because they have serious problems of their own (Chapter 11).

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