Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
Scout is pushed into a fight with her classmate, who had jeered her father for defending the ‘niggers’. On being questioned, Atticus does agree that he defends niggers, in particular the one named Tom Robinson. He explains that though the case is a tricky and a complex one, it is important for his own self- esteem. Moreover, his conscience compels him to suffer on behalf of the injustice carried out by his community. Another reason for taking up the case is that if he did not, he would not be able to represent their country in the legislature. Besides, the case is equally important for him to be able to stand up to his anti-racial stance.
Christmas arrives with mixed feelings for Jem and Scout since they have to spend it at Finch’s Landing, with Aunt Alexandra, Atticus’ sister. They receive air rifles as Christmas gifts from Atticus. Getting acquainted with the relatives once again seems a tiring job and Scout finds her cousin Francis a terrible bore. Aunt Alexandra is outraged that Scout is still in breeches and not in a dress. The children make a very amusing comparison of Aunt Alexandra with Mount Everest
Scout and Francis have a quarrel first over Dill and then over Atticus, whom Francis calls a ‘nigger-lover’. Uncle Jack mediates between them. Uncle Jack is unable to comprehend Scout’s way of thinking and admits to Atticus how he himself is better off for not having married at all.
Scout cannot help picking a fight when her father’s position at stake. Her behavior and her use of expletives is greatly abhorred by Uncle Jack, but he is not able to sort out the confusion.
Uncle Jack has a talk with Atticus about the children, and Atticus, knowing that Scout is listening says that he hopes the children would trust him and come to him for answers instead of depending on the local gossips. Scout is surprised that her father knows she has been listening --"and it was not until many years later that I realized he wanted me to hear every word he said."
Atticus again displays his rich character through his penetrating sense of child psychology. He realizes, as do few adults, that sometimes children abhor being told what is to be done. In a very adept manner, he maneuvers the conversation with Jack Finch in order to let Scout know (who he knows may be overhearing) that he hopes that his children would not be like the rest of the other citizens of Maycomb society, who refuse to associate with the blacks.
Scout, child that she is, is amazed at her father’s perceptiveness. Harper Lee has very skillfully sketched the depth of this father - daughter relationship.
Atticus refuses to teach the children how to shoot and Uncle Jack takes up the charge of giving them the lessons. Atticus only tells them that they may shoot at anything but a mockingbird. He explains that mockingbirds hurt no one; they only sing for people to enjoy, so killing a mockingbird is definitely a sin.
While going for a walk across the Radley house, they notice Tim, Mr. Harry Johnson’s dog, behaving strangely. The children rush home to inform Calpurnia. It turns out the dog had turned mad, and Calpurnia rushes around, informing everyone about it. The sheriff, Mr. Heck Tate requests Atticus to shoot down the dog. Atticus kills the dog in one shot! The children who had never been aware of their father’s shooting prowess are truly stunned. It turns out their father’s nickname in his younger days was ‘ol,’one-shot’. Miss Maudie then explains to the children that though Atticus was such a fine shooter, he had decided long ago that he would shoot only when it would be absolutely necessary to do so. She also describes him as a very civilized being at heart.
The mockingbird is mentioned for the first time. Atticus insists that a mockingbird, whose sole ambition in life is to bring pleasure to others, should never be killed, it being a virtual sin to do so. The reference to the mockingbird is important for Tom Robinson’s trial, as well as in relation to Boo Radley.
Atticus’ excellence in shooting greatly astonishes the children who have never seen their father shoot at anything. Maudie’s explanations clears up the confusion. Atticus maintains an appreciable sense of propriety and civility in this chapter. The children’s respect for their father is raised several notches now. Jem, especially, who is at the stage of emulating his father, is very proud of his him, which is demonstrated when he says jubilantly, "Atticus is a gentleman, just like me!"
Jem and Scout have outgrown the practice of bothering Boo. They now encounter Mrs. Dubose, an old woman with a wrathful gaze and a vitriolic tongue, who never fails to shower abuses on Jem and Scout, as well as on Atticus and the entire Finch family. One day, in his anger, Jem cuts down the tops off every camellia bush owned by Mrs. Dubose. Atticus, of course, makes Jem go back and apologize to her. As a punishment, Jem is ordered to go to Mrs. Dubose’s house and read out to her for a month. Everyday, he would read out till the alarm clock, set beside the bed, would ring, signaling the time for him to go home. A month later the reading stops. Some days later, Atticus informs them that Mrs. Dubose had died, leaving a box containing a waxy perfect camellia for Jem. Later on, Jem is told that the reading sessions had been conducted only as a distraction for her to overcome her morphine addiction. Mrs. Dubose had died a free woman.
Jem and Scout have grown up, but they still cannot overcome their anger if anyone passes a comment on their father. Mrs. Dubose comes across to the children as an acidic and garrulous woman who can only say harsh things about others. Yet, Atticus is scrupulous enough to insist that the children respect her for her age.
The evenings in her house, reading to Mrs. Dubose, is a hard task for the children, but the essential reason for it is revealed only after her death. Her desire to get rid of her morphine addiction before her death, reveals her as a strong character, who would rather go through a grueling experience to break the habit of addiction than die as an addict. Her gift to Jem is also typical of her perceptive character. The gift of the camellia shows that she had understood Jem’s anger when he had cut off her camellia bushes. Presenting him with the same flowers is her way of letting him know that she understands his feelings and acknowledges the same.
Atticus emphasizes the fact that whatever Mrs. Dubose went through revealed indisputable courage -- "Its when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through, no matter what." The children learn a great deal about strength of character and grit through their experience with Mrs. Dubose.