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.
Scout is disappointed by her father's advanced age and office job. She doesn't think that he is a capable man for these reasons. Upon receiving their air rifles, Scout and Jem are warned against killing mockingbirds. During a conversation with Miss Maudie, Scout learns that her father is Maycomb's chess champion and that he can play the Jew's Harp. One Saturday morning, their street is held captive by a mad dog. Sheriff Heck Tate brings Atticus to the scene and demands that he shoot the dog. Despite his numerous protests, Atticus eventually concedes and brings down the dog with one shot. Thus the children learn that he is also the deadest shot in Maycomb.
Scout remarks on her father's advanced age and how it affects his ability to roughhouse with his children. At nearly fifty years old, Atticus is older than most of her classmates' fathers. Scout also makes note of his profession which she considers as not really doing anything; he works in an office rather than on a farm or a truck. Despite Scout's and Jem's desire for Atticus to remain as inconspicuous as possible, his role as Tom Robinson's lawyer makes it nearly impossible. Scout keeps her promise to refrain from fighting with her classmates about their comments regarding Atticus and Tom; however, she will fight anyone in her family for disrespecting her father.
Upon giving Scout and Jem their air rifles, Atticus warns them not to shoot any mocking birds: Shoot all the bluejays you want but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird (103). The children are confused by Atticus' warning because it is the first time he refers to something as a sin. Miss Maudie explains to the children that mockingbirds are not nuisances like other animals; rather they don't one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's sin to kill a mockingbird (103).
The children remark on the age of the neighborhood and their sole youthful presence on their street. Miss Maudie informs them that they benefit from Atticus' advanced age. She disputes their belief that Atticus is too old to do anything by revealing his reputation from his youth. Not only is he the town's best checker player, but he can play the Jew's Harp as well. They learn one Saturday morning that Atticus is also the best gunshot in town. The children find a mad dog, Tim Johnson, wandering down their street and run to tell Calpurnia. Calpurnia sounds the alarm and then calls the sheriff Mr. Heck Tate who brings Atticus along to assess the situation from the Radley property. As the dog draws closer, the sheriff hands Atticus his rifle and demands that he shoots him. Atticus refuses, at first, because he hasn't shot a gun in over a decade; however, he soon gives in because he is getting closer to the Radley property. Atticus slowly and deliberately walks out to the center of the street, kneels on one knee, and shoots Tim Johnson. The children wonder why he never mentions his reputation as a marksman. Miss Maudie answers Maybe I can tell you. If your father's any thing, he's civilized in his heart. Marksmanship is a gift of God, a talent I think he put his gun down when he realized God has given him an unfair advantage over most living things. I guess he decided he wouldn't shoot till he had to, and he had to today. (112). Scout wants to tell everyone at school on Monday, but Jem reminds her that if Atticus wished them to know, he would have told them. Before leaving Scout, Jem tells her that both he and Atticus are gentlemen.
Jem and Scout are regularly abused by the oldest neighbor on their street, Mrs. Dubose. Each time they pass her house on the way to town, she accuses them of delinquency and insults their family. One morning, she makes a remark about the Tom Robinson case and proceeds to shout comments about the entire Finch family. For retribution, Jem destroys all of her camellias with Scout's new baton. As a punishment, Jem is forced to read to Mrs. Dubose everyday for one month. She dies at the end of the month and the children learn about her morphine addiction. As a thank you for helping her make it through the last month of her life, Mrs. Dubose leaves Jem a sole camellia.
In order for the children to go to town, they have to pass the house of a miserable old woman, Mrs. Dubose who lives alone except for a young black woman who attends her. Each time the children pass Mrs. Dubose's house, she stares them down while interrogating them about their behavior. Atticus tells Jem to be gentle with and kind to Mrs. Dubose because she is elderly and sick. One Saturday afternoon, while passing by Mrs. Dubose's house, she accuses Jem of vandalizing Miss Maudie's scuppernong arbor. She then tells Scout that she'll grow up waiting tables if she doesn't start acting like a lady. Just as the children begin to walk away, Mrs. Dubose remarks on the Tom Robinson case: Yes indeed, what is this world coming to when a Finch goes against his raising?... Your father's no better than the niggers and trash he works for! (117) She continues to berate them about their family as they continue on their way to town. On their way home Jem uses the baton he buys for Scout to destroy all of the flowers in Mrs. Dubose's front yard. As a punishment, Atticus forces Jem to read to Mrs. Dubose everyday for two hours. Just before the end of each reading session the children are asked to leave by Mrs. Dubose's daughter so that she can give her mother medication for her fits. This continues for a month before Mrs. Dubose dies and the children learn that she had an addiction to morphine from which she was trying to free herself. The read-a-loud sessions were helping her fight her addiction. As an acknowledgement of Jem's good, though unwilling, deed, she had her daughter give Jem a candy box with a single camellia in it; the same flower the destruction of which led to his punishment. Atticus explains to Jem his reasons for making him read to her for the last month: I wanted you to see something about her I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. Mrs. Dubose wonAccording to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew (128).
Chapters 10 and 11 primarily focus on developing Atticus' character as an introduction to the second part of the novel. Lee, again, uses what appears to a single incident in order to explore two themes. The first incident is in Chapter 10 which opens with Scout disparaging her father because of his age and his profession. She is neither impressed by his intelligence nor his consciousness as a community member; however, she is impressed with Atticus' public display of machismo when he shoots the mad dog Tim Johnson. Scout is so impressed that she cannot wait to brag about it at school the following Monday. This scene with the mad dog not only reemphasizes the difference between Scout's and Jem's maturation, but also speaks volumes about Atticus as a man and a father. Despite the time that has passed since the night of the fire, Scout has not learned the valuable lessons about the adult world that Jem has learned. In regards to Atticus, he does not view his marksmanship as an attribute of which to be proud as is demonstrated by his refusal to share his reputation as the deadest shot in Maycomb with his children. It is also clearly demonstrated by his reluctance to take the gun from Sheriff Heck Tate to shoot Tim Johnson. Atticus' idea of courage and bravery are not symbolized by weaponry and brute strength; rather, they are embodied in the tough decisions one makes, such as Atticus deciding to finally take the gun and shoot Tim Johnson, as well as by the honorable behavior one exhibits such as Jem's decision to disclose the information about he, Scout and Boo Radley the night of Miss Maudie's fire.
Lee continues to explore the themes of maturity, bravery and courage in Chapter 11. Much to his chagrin, Jem is forced to spend time with his combative and miserable neighbor, Mrs. Dubose, after he destroys her garden. Although Jem could have denied destroying the flowers as well as disobeyed his father, Jem endures his punishment without a complaint. Atticus uses the punishment as an opportunity to teach his children more about his personal definition of courage and bravery. Simultaneously, he uses his children's visits with Mrs. Dubose as an opportunity to teach his children about the complexities of the human mind and the adult world. Mrs. Dubose embodies all the flaws of Maycomb; such as racism, sexism, and a general judgmental attitude. Yet, beneath it all there lies an essential kindheartedness that the white camellias come to represent. Atticus wants his children to understand human beings are imperfect because they are the sum of their life experiences, a philosophy that Atticus attempts to explain to Scout in Chapter 3; however it is almost more important to recognize the admirable qualities they may possess. The admirable qualities are what Atticus seeks to preserve through the choices he makes in raising his children, the choices he makes as a man of the law, and the choices he makes as a member of Maycomb County. This becomes increasingly important for the children in the second part of the novel as the trial begins and the town's attitude toward the Finches becomes more hostile.