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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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What kind of relationship does Scout have with Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird?

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus and Scout share a close, but unconventional father-daughter relationship. Atticus respects Scout's tomboy nature and her need to be herself, while Scout looks up to her father and trusts his advice.

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To put it simply, Atticus and Scout share a fantastic father-daughter relationship, to a degree that was perhaps unusual in the 1930s. The first example of this is in the names that they call each other. Atticus, who has been widowed and is very busy with his job as a lawyer, does not insist on addressing his tomboyish daughter by the name she was given at birth—Jean-Louise—but instead calls her Scout. Over and above this, Atticus allows Scout to dress like a tomboy and does not expect her to behave as a girl typically would. Scout addresses her father by his first name, which would generally never have been acceptable behavior at this time.

Atticus shows that he cares deeply about Scout by taking the time to read the newspaper with her every evening—and in doing so, manages to gently remind his daughter about the importance of her education, without making her feel pressured or as though she has been bossed around. He adds further to her education by fostering the type of relationship in which Scout knows she can ask her father anything and receive an honest answer. This gentle love gives Scout an immense respect and reverence for her father, and she returns his love by being an obedient child.

Atticus’s standard way of disciplining Scout is by helping her to understand the truth. This can be seen at various points in the book where Scout has a fight with somebody else, a classic example being when she argues with Cecil Jacobs, who made the claim that Atticus was a defender of “niggers.”

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Atticus and Scout share a loving, father-daughter relationship and have mutual respect for one another throughout the novel. Scout looks up to her father and immediately comes to him for answers about things that she does not comprehend. Atticus is an understanding, loving father, who is always honest with his children. Atticus always tells Scout the truth and even breaks down difficult subjects so that she can understand them. Atticus also allows and encourages Scout to be herself. He knows that she prefers to wear overalls, play with the boys, and read. Instead of confining her to the rigid social code of the Deep South, Atticus allows Scout to feel comfortable and free. Scout loves her father and can also be found on his lap reading with him on most evenings. Even though Scout can find Atticus boring at times, she trusts and loves him very much. Atticus is an exemplary father, who supports and cares for his children throughout the story. 

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As a father/daughter relationship of the 1930s, the relatioship of Atticus and Scout is very unconventional.  First of all, Jean-Louise is called "Scout" and is allowed to wear overalls at a time when little girls wore dresses almost all of the time. Then, too, Scout addresses her father by his first name, an action that in the 1930s would have been considered the height of disrespect.  Another unconventional aspect to the relatioship is that Scout does not feel that any topic is taboo; she unabashedly asks her father about rape or being a "nigger-lover," etc.  Thus, the father/daughter relationship of Atticus and Scout is truly avant-garde, just as avant-garde as Atticus's views on black people and poor people and other social pariahs in the town.

Transcending all these uncoventionalisms of their relatioship, is the deep love and respect that Atticus and Scout have for each other. For, Atticus always listens to his daughter and teaches her in a kind manner, never derogating her.  For example, when she asks about his being a "nigger-lover," he simply answers, "Don't say that.  It's common" [common meaning lower-class] When Scout recounts the proceedings of the trial, she proudly relates the acute insight of Atticus:

Atticus sometimes said that one way to tell whether a witness was lying or telling the truth was to listen rather than watch:  I applied his test....

Loving child and loving father, Scout and Atticus are also good friends who can talk freely to one another.

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Other than the obvious parent-child relationship, I think their relationship can be described in a variety of ways.

Understanding - Atticus realizes that Scout feels certain ways and lets her continue in them.

Compromising - When Scout struggles in school with reading (because Miss Caroline wants to fix her reading) Atticus agrees that they can keep reading at home, Miss Caroline just doesn't need to know about it.

Disciplining - Atticus doesn't let the kids get away with making fun of the Radleys and he requires Scout not to fight. She respectfully complies.

Adult-like - Atticus doesn't hide from the tough issues with his daughter. When she asks what rape is as an 8 year-old, he tells her plainly that it is carnal knowledge of a woman by force and without consent. He uses this language I think because it will satisfy her curiosity but the vocabulary might trip her up enough that she doesn't ask anything more.

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Atticus and Scout have a somewhat detached but loving and respectful relationship.

Atticus is no ordinary father.  For one thing, he is a single parent.  His wife died, leaving him with two children.  He raises them in the best way that he knows how, but his methods are different from most of his time period.

Scout and Jem call Atticus by his first name, instead of “father” or “dad,” but they are not being disrespectful.  They also usually refer to him as Atticus, but address him as “sir” as well.  This is part of Atticus’s unique parenting style.

Atticus treats his children with respect.  Even though Scout is only about six to nine years old over the course of the book, he often talks to her like an adult.  He threatens to “wear out” his children, but he actually never whips either of them.  Scout describes her father this way.

Jem and I found our father satisfactory: he played with us, read to us, and treated us with courteous detachment. (ch 1)

Yet Scout respects her father.  She trusts his judgment.  Her father is a wise man, and often gives her very useful advice about getting along with people when she has trouble with her first grade teacher. 

 “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view-"

"Sir?"

"-until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." (ch 3)

Scout learns to respect people from Atticus, but she also learns about love.  Although Atticus is generally detached, he does show affection.

"Come here, Scout," said Atticus. I crawled into his lap and tucked my head under his chin. He put his arms around me and rocked me gently. (ch 9)

In some ways, Atticus and Scout understand each other perfectly.  Scout runs to Atticus with every problem.  She trusts his judgment.  Most important of all, she knows he loves her.

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