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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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What is the "near libel" which Jem puts in the front yard? How do Miss Maudie and Atticus react to it?  

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Jem and Scout have never seen snow before, so when it finally snows in Maycomb County, they want to make a snowman. They don’t have enough snow, so they use snow from Miss Maudie’s yard. When their father Atticus sees the snowman, he calls it a “near libel,” because it closely resembles their neighbor Mr. Avery, and not in a flattering way: the snowman has a rounded stomach like Mr. Avery, and the facial features made from wood succeed in making the snowman look quite angry. Jem’s creation seems to be revenge for earlier in the day when Mr. Avery blamed the children for the bad weather:

It’s bad children like you makes the seasons change.

Atticus suggests that Jem modify the snowman’s appearance so that it won’t offend Mr. Avery, and so they add Miss Maudie’s sun hat and hedge clippers to the snowman so it looks less like Mr. Avery and more like, as Miss Maudie jokes to Atticus, a “hermaphrodite.”

The humor of this scene is quickly cut short. That night, Miss Maudie’s house is on fire and all the neighbors help to remove furniture from her house, including Mr. Avery who saves her mattress and almost gets trapped in the fire as a result. Mr. Avery did what he could to help Miss Maudie, unlike the snowman, which has become nothing more than a sunhat and hedge clippers.

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When it snows in Maycomb, Jem and Scout decide to build a snowman in the front yard. They begin to build it, and then decide to model the snowman after Mr. Avery, their quirky neighbor. When Atticus sees their snowman, he can immediately tell it is supposed to be Mr. Avery. He tells Jem that he has "perpetrated a near libel here in the front yard" (Chapter 8). He lightheartedly implores his son to change the snowman's appearance to make him look less like Mr. Avery. Atticus suggests that Mr. Avery may be unhappy if he sees the snowman.

Jem has the idea to change the snowman into a snow woman. He runs over to Miss Maudie's house. He borrows her hat and hedge trimmers and puts them on the snowman. Miss Maudie sees what Jem has done, and scolds him with a smile on her face.

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