To Kill a Mockingbird

by: Harper Lee

Five Key Questions

2) What does the rabid dog Atticus shoots symbolize?

In Chapter 11, Atticus shoots a mad (rabid) dog in the street. This episode serves two important purposes in the novel. Before the incident with the dog, Scout and Jem saw their father as old, reserved, and not particularly powerful. When Scout and Jem learn that their father is known as the best shot in the entire county, they learn to see Atticus with a greater sense of respect. In a larger symbolic sense, the dog, because it has rabies, is a dangerous threat to the community. In shooting the dog, then, Atticus is trying to protect the community from its most dangerous elements. Similarly, in defending Tom Robinson, Atticus tries to protect the community from its most dangerous, racist tendencies. Later in the book, in Chapter 22, Miss Maudie tells Jem about Tom Robinson’s trial, “I simply want to tell you that there are some men in this world who were born to do our unpleasant jobs for us. Your father’s one of them.” Atticus’s killing of the dog and defense of Tom Robinson both reflect that he is willing and able to take on things that the rest of Maycomb is unequipped to face.