To Kill a Mockingbird Study Guide

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel about Atticus, a lawyer, and his children, Jem and Scout, living in Alabama. Jem and Scout are infatuated with a spooky neighbor, "Boo" Radley, Atticus is defending Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman. Tom is found guilty by a racist jury and is killed while trying to escape from prison. Bob Ewell, the winner of the case, attacks Jem and Scout to exact revenge but Boo saves them and kills Bob.

Chapter 9

Brief Summary

It is Christmas time and the entire Finch family gathers at Finch Landing. Scout upsets Uncle Jack with her newfound habit of cursing. She also upsets Aunt Alexandra with her continued refusal to dress and behave like a lady. Aunt Alexandra blames the absence of a woman in the household who can guide Scout towards femininity. Scout and her cousin Francis fight the entire weekend; first, they fight about gender responsibilities, then they fight about Atticus. Francis calls him a nigger-lover and Scout assaults him; however, she is the only one to be punished. Just before going to sleep, Scout overhears Uncle Jack and Atticus discuss how he disciplines Scout as well as his concerns about the Tom Robinson case.

Detailed Summary

Scout is reprimanded by Atticus for fighting with Cecil Jacobs after he announced in the school yard that Atticus defends niggers. At first Scout vehemently denies the rumor; however, upon asking Atticus she learns that he has been appointed to defend Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a young, white woman from the Ewell family. Atticus warns her that the town disagrees with his appointment and wants him to refuse the case; yet Atticus tells Scout that despite the impossibility of winning the case, if I didn't, I couldn't hold up my head in town, I couldn't represent the county in the legislature, I couldn't even tell you and Jem not to do something again(86). He also warns her that his refusal to give up the case will cause more problems for the children, but they must support Atticus' sense of justice by not engaging in fights with their classmates.

At Christmas time, Atticus brings Scout and Jem to Finch's Landing to spend time with Atticus' sister and Brother, Alexandra and Jack. Unfortunately, the pleasant relationship that Scout has with her Uncle Jack is spoiled because of her recently acquired habit of cursing. Atticus dismisses it as the typical ornery behavior of a child, but Uncle Jack is amused. He pulls Scout aside after dinner and emphasizes his displeasure with her cursing. He reminds her that that she will soon be a lady and, therefore, she must strive to refrain from unladylike behavior. Scout tells Uncle Jack that she is not interested in becoming a lady, a statement Uncle Jack ignores.

On Christmas Day, Scout and Jem are given BB guns while their cousin Francis receives clothing and a knapsack. Scout dislikes Francis because talking to Francis gives [her] the sensation of settling slowly to the bottom of the Ocean. He was the most boring child [she] ever met(92). He also is a tattletale and reveals all of Scout's information to his mother when he has the opportunity to do so. Then, Aunt Alexandra reports to Atticus. This is a reoccurring pattern throughout the holiday as Aunt Alexandra continuously calls attention to the negative impact the absence of an acceptable mother-figure (Aunt Alexandra does not count Calpurnia because she is black) in the house is having on Scout; besides cursing, Scout also prefers to wear pants rather than skirts as well as roughhousing with boys rather than playing house or learning how to cook and host. After Scout and Francis have an argument about gender roles in the household, Francis calls Atticus a nigger-lover. Francis insults Atticus again after Scout chases him around the house. She forgets the promise she made to Atticus and punched Francis in the lip. Uncle Jack spanks her before he hears her side of the story. Uncle Jack wants to confront Francis and Aunt Alexandra, but Scout beseeches him not to say a word. She prefers Atticus believe they were fighting over something different.

Before putting Scout to bed, he tells her a false definition of a whore-lady which he learns later from Atticus is the wrong approach with children. Atticus believes a child should be told the truth when they ask for it. Uncle Jack questions Atticus' unwillingness to spank Scout when she misbehaves. Atticus trusts her desire to want to please Atticus and prove that he is not wrong in trusting her to make the right decision. Both men are worried about the burden the children will have to bear once the Tom Robinson trial begins. Atticus explains his strategy as well as how he was appointed the case. He tells Uncle Jack I hope and pray I can get Jem and Scout through it without the bitterness, and most of all, without catching Maycomb's usual disease. Why reasonable people go stark raving mad when anything involving a Negro comes up is something I don't pretend to understand I just hope that Jem and Scout come to me for their answers instead of listening to the town. I hope they trust me enough(101). Atticus stops to tell Scout, who has been secretly listening by the doorway, to return to bed.

Chapter 9 Analysis

Chapter 9 allows the reader to learn more about Scout, Atticus, and the Finch family as a whole. Ironically enough, Lee uses Christmas as the setting, the holiday during which most families are in festive and loving spirits. Unfortunately for both Scout and Atticus, the Finch family reveals itself to be as fixed in traditional ideologies as the rest of Maycomb County. In fact, they prove to be a mini-replication of Maycomb County.

Lee explores two major subjects in this chapter. The first is Scout's gender and the expectations inherent to being a female. Scout has been cussing for a week by the time Uncle Jack arrives in Maycomb. Uncle Jack immediately reprimands her; however, he does not scold her because the language is unseemly, rather he scolds her because the language is unseemly for a lady. He emphasizes his point by asking her You want to grow up to be a lady, don't you?(90) When she expresses her disinterest in the virtues of becoming a lady, Uncle Jack casually dismisses her statement by telling her that she is, in fact, interested in becoming a lady. The morning following her conversation with Uncle Jack, both Scout and Jem receive air rifles for Christmas. An air rifle is not the typical gift for a young lady, even if she originates from the country. Another aspect of the Finches' contention with Scout's lack of femininity is her clothing. Her usual attire is overalls and sneakers. Her Aunt Alexandra disapproved of Scout's preferred manner of dress by telling her that she she wasn't supposed to be doing things that required pants(92).

Aunt Alexandra's opinion on clothing for women is a reflection of that to which Scout draws the reader's attention in the first chapter. Women in Maycomb change several times a day and often spend most of any given day visiting neighbors or lounging on the porch. Strenuous physical activity and rough housing in particular, are frowned upon. In other words, women are expected to look like women and the division line between the sexes is clearly and concisely drawn. Scout crosses as well as blurs that line, essentially operating against the status quo which is an act that Ms. Maudie has already proven to be socially dangerous.

Lastly, the conversation between Francis and Scout reveals her interestingly traditional perspective on gender roles in relationships. While she refuses to wear dresses and skirts, Scout does believe that women should do the cooking for their husbands. Francis's attitude is rather progressive in that he believes a husband should do more for his wife and treat her like a delicate flower. This difference in opinion emphasizes Scout's navet and surface understanding of social dynamics. Lee uses this as a device to remind the reader that Scout is still a child and as such, has a limited understanding of the world and her actions in it. This is made even clearer when one refers back to her cussing episodes. Although she is exhibiting adult behavior, the implications of her actions are unclear to her.

The second major subject is Atticus' relationship to his family. Atticus poses a strikingly different character to both his brother and sister, but especially his sister. She, like many of the women introduced in the novel thus far, is very conservative. Her ideas on gender roles have already been discussed, but this chapter also demonstrates her conservative ideas about race relations. The first hint of her attitude towards blacks, which is explored in Part 2, is her refusal to acknowledge Calpurnia as a mother figure for Scout. Calpurnia has been with the family since Scout was a baby and helps Atticus raise both children like they are her own. Alexandra disapproves of this arrangement although the children have and continue to benefit from Calpurnia's positive presence. The most obvious issue Alexandra has with Atticus is his decision to defend Tom Robinson. Her disapproval is a combination of both fear of the impact it will have on the children and the fact that she believes Tom is guilty. Her angst over Atticus' decision is at such a level that she disparages her brother with her grandson Francis. Uncle Jack, on the other hand, questions Atticus directly about the soundness of his decision. However, both Uncle Jack and Aunt Alexandra continuously question Atticus about his ability to raise two children properly.

Interestingly, neither Aunt Alexandra nor Uncle Jack has demonstrated stellar parenting skills. Alexandra exposes young children to inappropriate language and harmful ideas as demonstrated by Francis' repeating her remarks about Atticus being a nigger lover. Jack finds it difficult to be honest with children when they ask him uncomfortable questions about life as demonstrated by the answer he gives to Scout when she asks him for the definition of a whore lady. Juxtaposed to his siblings' relationships with children is Atticus' patience with Scout's behavior as well as his willingness to be honest with his children about the world.

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