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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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Why isn't Atticus proud of his shooting ability in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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Atticus thinks that shooting guns is not an appropriate use of his talents. In any case, he makes a distinction between natural, God-given talents and those you acquire over a long period of time through hard work and application. Natural talents are those that give you an unfair advantage over other people. As they are given to you by God, it doesn't make much sense to brag about them. Atticus seems to believe that you should only be proud of those abilities that you've developed yourself, that weren't given to you, didn't drop from the heavens, so to speak.

Shooting well with a gun also doesn't correspond to Atticus's notion of courage. Throughout the story, Atticus displays immense courage on a number of occasions. Arguably his most courageous act of all is his agreeing to represent Tom Robinson in court. He's also keen to pass on his ideas about courage to Scout and Jem. So if he starts bragging about his shooting abilities, Atticus is worried that he'll convey the impression to his children that being a good shot is something that makes you courageous.

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Atticus himself doesn't explain why he is not proud of his shooting ability, so our best explanation comes from Miss Maudie. Once Jem and Scout see Atticus's uncanny shooting ability, she explains that when he was a boy, his nickname was "Ol' One Shot," because he was such a dead shot. She explains that Atticus is "civilized in his heart." Shooting ability, she explains, is a natural gift--"a gift of God"--although you have to practice to make it perfect. Miss Maudie guesses that Atticus "put down his gun when he realized that God had given him an unfair advantage over most living things." 

Atticus wants life to be fair, even while he understands on a visceral level that it is not. This helps us understand why he take Tom Robinson's case, even when he knows he cannot win. The only way to beat the system--eventually, some day--is to keep trying to make it fair. 

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, Miss Maudie tries to explain Atticus's excellent marksmanship and his lack of pride in it. How does she do this?

After Atticus kills the mad dog with a single shot in Chapter 10, both Scout and Jem are dumbfounded.  Miss Maudie, a witness to the incident, immediately remarks, "Well now, Miss Jean Louise, still think your father can't do anything?  Still ashamed of him?"  This is an obvious reference to the children's complaints that Atticus, who is older than many of their peers' fathers, doesn't do many of the things that other fathers do.  (For instance, Scout complains, in the beginning of Chapter 10, that Atticus is "feeble" and doesn't smoke, hunt, play tackle keep-away, drive a dump-truck, or do other things that other children's fathers do.)

With these complaints in mind, Miss Maudie proceeds to tell the children that their father's nickname was "Ol' One-Shot," a nickname he acquired because of his excellent marksmanship.  The children, still in a state of disbelief, wonder why Atticus never told them he could shoot, and Scout says, "Wonder why he never goes huntin' now."  In a very telling statement, Miss Maudie replies:

If your father's anything, he's civilized in his heart.  Marksmanship's a gift of God, a talent--oh, you have to practice to make it perfect, but shootin's different from playing the piano or the like.  I think maybe he put his gun down when he realized that God had given him an unfair advantage over most living things.  I guess he decided that he wouldn't shoot till he had to, and he had to today.

Obviously, Miss Maudie is able to recognize that Atticus doesn't value his gift of marksmanship the way the children would like him to.  We can assume that Jem would have liked to know about Atticus's talent so he could brag to his friends about it.  Readers know, though, that the most important thing to Atticus--and the lesson he would like his children to learn--is that being a good person who treats all others with respect and fairness is much more important than shooting a gun accurately. 

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, Miss Maudie tries to explain Atticus's excellent marksmanship and his lack of pride in it. How does she do this?

Miss Maudie points out to Jem and Scout that Atticus is not particularly proud of his killing skill. After Atticus shoots the mad dog, Jem and Scout are surprised at both their father's ability with a rifle and his silence on the subject. Maudie gives them a lesson on humility. She tells them that although marksmanship is a skill that requires practice to achieve perfection, " '...shootin's different from playing the piano or the like.' " According to Maudie, Atticus felt his ability gave him an unfair advantage over animals, so he put down his guns for good. When Scout declares that he ought to be proud, Maudie retorts that " 'People in their right minds never take pride in their talents.' " Jem immediately understands Maudie's little lecture. He tells Scout to never mention it to their father because " 'Atticus is a gentleman, just like me.' " 

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, Miss Maudie tries to explain Atticus's excellent marksmanship and his lack of pride in it. How does she do this?

Miss Maudie says that Atticus has a talent, and you don't brag about your God-given talents.

Scout describes her father as “feeble.”  She thinks of him as old.  When a mad dog shows up in the neighborhood, the sheriff can’t make the shot in one try.  He gives the gun to Atticus.

"I haven't shot a gun in thirty years-"

Mr. Tate almost threw the rifle at Atticus. "I'd feel mighty comfortable if you did now," he said. (ch 10)

Atticus takes the dog down in one shot.  His children are shocked, because they had no idea he could even shoot a gun—let alone better than the sheriff. 

Miss Maudie thinks that it’s funny that the children did not know that their father could shoot.  She asks if they are still ashamed of him.

“…The very idea, didn't you know his nickname was Ol' One-Shot when he was a boy? Why, down at the Landing when he was coming up, if he shot fifteen times and hit fourteen doves he'd complain about wasting ammunition." (ch 10)

She tells the children that Atticus realized his talent was a gift from God, and gave him an unfair advantage when hunting.  So he stopped hunting.  She tells them a person in his right mind doesn’t brag about his talents.

Jem and Scout consider this, and decide not to tell anyone. Jem even says that he would be proud of his father even if he could not shoot.  He says he is a gentleman, like Jem.

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How does Miss Maudie explain why Atticus is not proud of his marksmanship?

There are two main things that she says to explain this.

One of the things she says is that no one in their right mind takes pride in their talent.  In other words, you should be humble.

The second of them is perhaps more important because it is about Atticus as a person.  She says that Atticus feels like he has too much of an advantage over the things he would be trying to shoot.  He's so good at shooting that it would be unfair.  This shows us how fair and good Atticus is as a person.

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