Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, what do we learn at the beginning of Chapter 10 about the way Scout and Jem feel about Atticus?

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Chapter ten is about secret powers. Atticus is by far the oldest parent among Scout's friend group. Atticus does not hunt, farm, drive a dump truck, or do any of the outdoorsy jobs that the other parents do. Atticus is too old to play tackle football with his son. When Scout asks Miss Maudie what her father "can do," Miss Maudie says that he can "make somebody’s will so airtight can’t anybody meddle with it." Scout is unimpressed. She is also unimpressed with the other talents Miss Maudie lists (champion checker player and accomplished Jew's harp player). For her, all Atticus does is "sit in the livingroom and read." She is amazed, however, when Atticus is able to kill a rabid dog from a significant distance with a single shot.

Of course, Atticus's real secret power is his sense of justice and his ability to empathize and care for others. These things simply do not matter to Scout. Atticus's history as "one-shot Finch" is a kind of suppressed story; however, Scout learns that often there is more to people—and what they can do—than meets the eye.

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At the beginning of Chapter 10, Scout laments about her father's inability to partake in common physical activities and believes that he is a rather boring parent. Scout begins the chapter by calling Atticus old and feeble. Scout says that she and Jem could never brag about Atticus' abilities to their friends at school. Atticus is willing to play keep away with his son, but when Jem tries to get him to play tackle football, Atticus always says he's too old to play. The children note that Atticus is much older than the other parents they know. Scout mentions that Atticus does nothing that could arouse any admiration from her friends because he has a boring occupation. Atticus doesn't drive a truck, work on cars, or protect the county. He works in an office which is not exciting at all. Scout also notes that Atticus has poor vision and has to wear glasses, which does not make him look very manly. Another reason why Jem and Scout think Atticus is boring is that he does not participate in any fun activities like hunting, fishing, or playing poker. Overall, they believe that their father is an old, boring man, without any special talents.

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We learn at the beginning of Chapter Ten that Atticus is considerably older than most of the other kids' fathers in Maycomb--he is almost fifty years old. Because of his age, and his personality as well, Atticus can't (or won't) do many of the things the other fathers do. He won't play football with Jem, he doesn't hunt, and for that matter, he doesn't drink or smoke. "He sat in the livingroom and read," Scout tells the reader (92).  Miss Maudie tries to make them understand that their father is a wonderful lawyer and, she adds, very good at checkers. It seems that the children are a little embarrassed by their father, and they wish he was, for lack of a better word, cool.

They are surprised, then, at the end of the chapter when Atticus returns home to shoot a rabid dog in the street. In fact, Sheriff Tate gives him his rifle because he knows what the children do not--that Atticus once was, and apparently still is--the best shot in Maycomb. He proves this when he takes the mad dog down with a single shot to the head. With this, Jem in particular is suddenly very proud of his father.


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