To Kill a Mockingbird

What causes Jem and Scout to see their father with a new perspective? Interpret the significance of what happens in these chapters.

From chapters 9-16.

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One day a dog named Tim Johnson appears in the neighborhood, down the street from the Finch house. He looks strange appearance and walks slowly, with a twitch. The children tell Calpurnia, who takes one look at the dog and immediately calls Atticus to tell him that there's a rabid dog in the neighborhood. Next Calpurnia gets the town operator to call everyone in the neighborhood to warn them. She even runs over to the Radley house and yells a warning to them. Atticus and the sheriff, Heck Tate, drive up, and the sheriff gives Atticus the gun. The dog is so close to the Radley house that a stray bullet might go into the building. Atticus reluctantly takes aim and shoots the dog. The dog crumples into a heap. Jem is dumbstruck with the accuracy of his father's shot. Miss Maudie tells the children that their father used to be known as "One-Shot Finch," the best dead-shot in the county. She says he doesn't shoot unless he has to, because he feels that when he holds a gun, God has given him an unfair advantage over living beings. Scout wants to tell everyone in school about the incident, but Jem tells her not to. Jem explains that he wouldn't care if Atticus "couldn't do a blessed thing," because Atticus is a gentleman.

The rabid dog in Chapter 10 is a deadly, dangerous menace to the town, and its presence affects everyone in the community, black or white, irrespective of class or personality. Thus, just like the fire, the dog creates a unifying affect over the neighborhood - no one is immune to it, and everyone must take cover together. Later in the book, Atticus uses the court of law in a similar way, making everyone equal, regardless of ethnicity or social stature. In addition, we also learn that even though Atticus does not like to shoot, he is an excellent marksman. Atticus does not brag about his strengths or talents, he simply uses them when necessary. When Atticus holds the gun, the fate of the entire community rests upon his shoulders, a role which will be discussed more in Chapter 24, where Miss Maudie points out that the town depends upon Atticus to uphold truth for them all. Atticus dislikes handling a gun because he believes it gives him an unfair advantage over all living things. However, in the name of public safety, Atticus's moral code calls for him to protect his family and neighbors and kill the dog. Again, this shows how a law, such as nature's law or even a personal law such as Atticus's avoidance of guns, must sometime be bent toward a higher aim.