To Kill A Mockingbird: Novel Summary: Chapters 9-10

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Chapter 9: Back at school, Scout defends herself against classmate, Cecil Jacobs, who accused Atticus of "defending niggers" (82).  Scout lets her fists fly against Cecil but she can't forget the accusation.  At home that day she asks Atticus about it.  Atticus replies, "I'm simply defending a Negro-his name's Tom Robinson.  He lives in that little settlement beyond the town dump.  He's a member of Calpurnia's church, and Cal knows his family well.  She says they're clean-living folks.  Scout, you aren't old enough to understand some things yet, but there's been some high talk around town to the effect that I shouldn't do much about defending this man" (83).  When Scout pushes Atticus to explain why he's defending Tom, Atticus states, "For a number of reasons.The main one is, if I didn't I couldn't hold up my head in town, I couldn't represent this county in the legislature, I couldn't even tell Jem not to do something again" (83).  Atticus warns Scout that there is going to be a lot of ugly talk about him and the case over the course of the trial which will take place during the coming summer.  Scout still does not understand why Atticus agreed to take the case:
"Atticus, are we going to win it?"
"No, honey."
"Then why-"
"Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win," Atticus said (84).
With that, Scout agrees not to fight over the case again.
The Finch family goes to Aunt Alexandra's house to celebrate Christmas.  Aunt Alexandra, Atticus's sister, lives on Finch Landing with her husband, Jimmy, and her grandson, Francis, the son of Alexandra's only son.  Scout dislikes Aunt Alexandra because Alexandra scolds her and disapproves of her unladylike qualities.  Cold and aloof, Alexandra does not know how to handle girls, especially headstrong ones like Scout.  Scout does her best to stay out of Auntie's way by reluctantly playing with boring cousin Francis.  Fortunately, Uncle Jack, Atticus's brother, arrives bearing gifts for Scout and Jem that he picked out on Atticus's request.  The gifts turn out to be air guns which Atticus and the children discuss in the following chapter.
After opening presents Scout and Francis wander outside again and shortly begin to fight.  Francis calls Atticus a "nigger lover," driving Scout into a rage.  Scout jumps on Francis but is quickly stopped by Uncle Jack who has no patience with Scout's fighting.  Jack reprimands Scout without hearing her side of the story.  Scout, who loves Jack, sulks for the rest of the Christmas visit.  Upon returning Maycomb, however, Jack reaches out to Scout to mend their temporarily damaged relationship.  Scout reveals Francis's attack on Atticus and Jack apologizes for racing to Francis's defense.  Jack tucks Scout into bed then retires to the living room where he and Atticus discuss the upcoming case and the trouble Scout has been getting into.  Scout overhears their conversation: "You know what's going to happen as well as I do, Jack, and I hope and pray that I can get Jem and Scout through it without 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." (97)
Chapter 10: Chapter Ten begins, "Atticus was feeble: he was nearly fifty.  When Jem and I asked him why he was so old, he said he got started late, which we felt reflected his abilities and manliness" (97).  Scout spends most of chapter ten looking for things that Atticus can "do." She and her brother mistakenly assume that "doing something" means being able to hunt or play football.  They don't realize that Atticus is capable of so many things beyond those physical activities and his strengths lie in areas not stereotypically considered manly.  However, Atticus proves during this chapter that he has more abilities than his children give him credit.
Atticus, who gave Jem and Scout air rifles for Christmas, teaches the children how to use their toy guns.  "I'd rather you shot tin cans in the back yard," he says, "but I know you'll go after birds.  Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird" (98).  This is the first reference to the title of the book and the explanation for Atticus's remark on mockingbirds becomes important as the book progresses:
That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.
"Your father's right," she said.  "Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy.  They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do but one thing but sing their hearts out for us.  That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird" (98).
Chapter Ten ends with a dramatic scene in which Atticus shoots a rabid dog who has wandered onto their street.  The neighbors reveal that Atticus used to me named "One-Shot Finch" because he was the surest shot in Maycomb County.  Jem and Scout's admiration of their father is restored but Atticus brushes off the incident, almost as if he wishes his children had not witnessed it.  Clearly, Atticus does not want his children, especially Jem, to grow up thinking that manhood is measured by one's ability to use a gun.  He wants his children to learn to use their minds and to rely on their strength of character.