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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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What was Uncle Jack able to teach the kids that Atticus wasn't in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird?

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, author Harper Lee uses Uncle Jack Finch as Atticus's character foil. A character foil is a character with the exact opposite traits of another character, and putting the characters side by side can emphasize the opposing traits. In the same way that Atticus teaches his kids such virtues as seeing things from others' perspectives, patience, and to value life, Uncle Jack teaches them the exact opposite. In doing so, Uncle Jack unwittingly introduces them to the evil in the world that is necessary for their maturity and helps develop Lee's major theme concerning loss of innocence.

One way in which Uncle Jack unwittingly teaches the Finch children about the evils of the world is by teaching them how to shoot their air rifles. Both Scout and Jem had asked Atticus for air rifles for Christmas, but Atticus, being opposed to all forms of violence, especially the endangerment of innocent life, gave Uncle Jack the following tasks: buying the air rifles; giving them to the children; and even teaching the children how to shoot. Later, the children are surprised to learn when Atticus shoots a rabid dog that Atticus not only knows how to shoot himself, but he is also a sharpshooter. Miss Maudie explains to the children that Atticus had given up his abilities and kept them a secret because he realized that, through his talent, "God had given him an unfair advantage over most living things," which Atticus decided he should take more seriously and use more wisely, only using his skill when absolutely necessary (Ch. 10). Hence, as we can see, Atticus teaches the children to value life, whereas Uncle Jack teaches them to have fun with their rifles, which inevitably teaches them to take life lightly, thereby leading to their loss of innocence.

In addition, Uncle Jack is prone to making a mistake that Atticus never makes--seeing things from only his own perspective. We see Uncle Jack act upon this mistake when he is hasty to penalize Scout without hearing her own side of the story as to why she had hit her cousin Francis. However, Uncle Jack is able to quickly understand his error and humbly apologizes to Scout. Hence, unlike Atticus, Uncle Jack not only teaches the children that mistakes are inevitable, but he also teaches them humility; seeing the inevitability of mistakes further leads to the children's loss of innocence.

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Towards the beginning of chapter ten, Jem and Scout play with their air rifles in the front yard. Scout mentions that Atticus refused to teach them how to shoot their air rifles, but Uncle Jack provides them instruction in that area.

Atticus does not elaborate on the reason he refuses to teach the children how to shoot their air rifles, but Uncle Jack simply tells Jem and Scout that their father is not interested in guns. Even though Atticus is an expert marksman, he is a morally-upright, civilized man who is vehemently against violence and weapons. According to Miss Maudie,...

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Atticus put his gun down when he realized that "God had given him an unfair advantage over most living things."

Despite Atticus's feelings regarding guns and violence, Uncle Jack not only buys the children air rifles for Christmas but also teaches them how to shoot their guns. As the children are playing with their air rifles in chapter ten, Atticus tells them that it is considered a sin to kill a mockingbird and encourages them to shoot tin cans or bluejays.

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In the book, Uncle Jack was able to teach the kids how to shoot.

When he gave us our air-rifles Atticus wouldn’t teach us to shoot. Uncle Jack instructed us in the rudiments thereof; he said Atticus wasn’t interested in guns (Chapter 10).

In Chapter 9, we are told that Uncle Jack gave Scout and Jem air rifles as Christmas gifts. Uncle Jack had always been a favorite with both children; he had a great sense of humor and always knew how to put them at ease. As a rule, Uncle Jack was "one of the few men of science who never terrified" Scout, "probably because he never behaved like a doctor." In short, Uncle Jack had great bedside manners. Once, he concocted a humorous story about a preacher to distract Scout while he removed a twisted splinter that was embedded in her foot.

Because of the camaraderie and rapport between Uncle Jack and the children, Atticus allowed Uncle Jack to teach both children how to shoot. This was one thing that the children learned from Uncle Jack that they were never able to learn from Atticus.

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