To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 9 Summary

Instructor: Erica Schimmel

Erica has taught college English writing and literature courses and has a master's degree in children's literature.

This lesson covers chapter 9 of To Kill a Mockingbird. We'll take a look at Atticus's new case, how the Finch's begin to be the target of racist friends and family, and how they respond.

Background

Up until this point in To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee has focused mostly on introducing Scout, her family, and her environment in Maycomb County. In chapter 9, however, Lee begins to explicitly address issues of racism by describing reactions to Atticus's upcoming criminal defense of a black man. Let's take a look at some of the pivotal moments in this chapter.

Scout Controls Her Temper

Chapter 9 opens with Scout, fists tightened, facing off with Cecil Jacobs. Although Atticus has asked her to stop fighting, Scout informs us that Cecil made her forget by announcing that 'Scout Finch's daddy defended niggers.' Through flashback, we learn Scout asked Atticus the night before if Cecil's statement was true. In this conversation, Lee implies her feelings about racism through Atticus when he tells Scout not to use the word 'nigger' because it is 'common.'

During this conversation, we learn why Cecil taunted Scout. Atticus has a new case - defending Tom Robinson, a black man who attends church with Calpurnia. Atticus tells Scout he feels he has to defend Tom, even though many people disagree and will respond angrily.

When Atticus tells Scout they will not win the case but that will not keep him from trying, Scout tells him he sounds like Cousin Ike Finch, a Confederate veteran. Lee uses this reference to draw a connection between racial issues in the war and racist attitudes still present. Atticus points out that Cousin Ike was fighting the Yankees, while they will be fighting friends and family. His point foreshadows the difficulties the Finch's will face during the trial.

Back in front of Cecil, Scout walks away from the fight, knowing Atticus would be disappointed if she did not.

A Fight at Family Christmas

A few weeks later, Christmas arrives, and with the holiday we meet other members of Scout's family - especially Uncle Jack, Aunt Alexandra, and Francis. Uncle Jack, Atticus's younger brother, is a favorite. Scout informs us that he is one of the only doctors who never scared her. They travel, as they do every year, to Finch's Landing, the home of Aunt Alexandra, Uncle Jimmy, and Francis for Christmas dinner.

After eating a giant meal, Scout and Francis sit on the back steps. What begins as a civil conversation about Alexandra's cooking quickly turns unfriendly when Francis insults Dill and Scout after she declares their intention to someday marry. Francis's insults quickly turn towards race and his comments mirror Cecil's when he taunts Scout by calling Atticus a 'nigger-lover.' Scout gets angry, demanding Francis take back his words, though she doesn't understand how or why they are an insult. What she does know is that Francis is trying to say something bad about Atticus, and Scout is quick to jump to her father's defense.

Francis runs away from Scout but does not stop taunting her. Unlike the incident with Cecil, Scout does not hold back and injures her hand punching Francis in the mouth. Uncle Jack catches Scout and punishes her for using bad language based upon Francis's accusations without allowing Scout to tell her side of the story.

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