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To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 10 Summary

Instructor: Ann Morris

Ann has taught secondary language arts and has a master's degree in journalism.

In Chapter 9 of To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout introduces what will dominate the rest of the story: the court case of Tom Robinson. But in Chapter 10, just when they think their father is an embarrassment, Scout and Jem learn a valuable lesson about Atticus.

Atticus, the Boring Old Man?

When you were a child, did you ever compare your dad to your friends' dads in the areas of strength, athletic ability, earning potential, or just overall coolness? Scout does this in Chapter 10 and feels disappointed when she realizes that Atticus doesn't win in any category…then she learns a lesson.

Atticus, who has not even reached his fiftieth birthday, seems old to Scout, much older than her classmates' dads, and too old to do anything interesting like play tackle football. In fact, Atticus does a lot of nothing all day every day. He spends his days in an office and his evenings reading at home. He doesn't fish, hunt, play poker, drink, or smoke. He does, however, cause Scout a great deal of embarrassment around town.

Atticus won't even teach Scout and Jem to shoot the air rifles he gave them for Christmas. He does, however, tell Jem that he would prefer it if he would shoot at tin cans instead of birds. But if Jem is going to shoot at birds, Atticus told him he could shoot blue jays, but it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.

Atticus says that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird.
mockingbird

It's a Sin to Kill a Mockingbird

Here we have the title of Harper Lee's novel, but what does it mean? Scout has the same question, so she asks her neighbor, Miss Maudie, what Atticus meant. Miss Maudie explains that mockingbirds cause people no harm. They just make beautiful music for the world, so nothing good would come of killing a mockingbird.

Scout goes on to complain to Miss Maudie about her father and her belief that he can't do anything. Miss Maudie disagrees and says that Atticus can write wills, play checkers, and play the Jew's Harp, also known as a mouth harp.

That evening, when Atticus arrives home from work, he finds Scout aiming her rifle at Miss Maudie's behind. Atticus warns Miss Maudie of the impending danger and tells Scout never to aim at a person again.

Can't Atticus Do Anything?

Scout next confers with Calpurnia on the subject of Atticus and his supposed lack of ability to do anything. Like Miss Maudie, Calpurnia defends Atticus, even though she can't come up with any specific examples of his talents.

When the town Methodists challenge the Baptists to a touch football game, Atticus refuses to participate on the grounds that he's too old. It's humiliating for Scout and Jem to watch their friends' dads play, knowing that their own dad is on the sidelines.

Although she doesn't know it yet, Scout's opinion of her father is about to change. Scout and Jem are playing with their air rifles near the Radleys' home when they see a rabid dog sauntering oddly toward them. They alert Calpurnia, who immediately orders the children into the house and calls Atticus at his office. Calpurnia then asks Miss Eula May, the town operator, to notify everyone with a phone on their street. Since the Radleys are not listed in the phone book, Calpurnia bravely runs to their front door and calls a warning into their house.

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