To Kill a Mockingbird (Chapter 10)

QP: Chapter 10 is a fun one, hey? In some ways it feels like a mini-story within itself; the arc of action is that Scout feels terrible for her father, who’s old, half-blind and incapable. Then, in a sudden flurry of action, Atticus drops his glasses (and they shatter on the street), and turns out to be a dead shot after fifteen years of not carrying a rifle. The comment about the bullet being slightly off only serves to highlight how accurate he can be.

It’s an interesting moment; on the one hand it gives Scout a chance to believe in her father. He’s redeemed after all the criticism he’s weathered earlier in the book. At the same time it’s a very particular kind of masculinity: handling guns, protecting the home.

What did you think?

GF: Chapter 10 does indeed feel like a mini-story, which shows us yet another side to Atticus.

As you mentioned, Scout describes Atticus as decrepit, much to the disappointment of his children. I took particular offence when Scout states that Atticus “didn’t do anything”.

Like you, I agree that Atticus’s actions in this chapter serve to illustrate Atticus’s ability to protect his home, children, and community. We know that Atticus is ‘qualified’ mentally and emotionally and we learn that he is also physically capable.

These qualities are acknowledged by Maycomb – when Calpurnia learns of Tim Johnson being at large, she immediately calls Atticus. The sheriff himself recognises Atticus’s superior marksmanship.

The fact that Atticus has not recounted the days of “One-Shot Finch” to Jem and Scout speaks volumes about his character.

I think the chapter also serves to foreshadow what is about to unfold. Tim Johnson is a challenge that Maycomb County looks to Atticus to put right while they shut themselves inside to watch. This is what they have done with the too-hard court case mired in racism and class issues – passed it on to Atticus to handle unarmed but for his wit and wisdom. Maycombers will watch and judge but will not take on any responsibility. I also think that the Tim Johnson incident preempts other unexpected and scary things for Maycomb.

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