Catch up on parts 1 — 5 of BloggingTo Kill a Mockingbirdhere!
Chapter 9, like most chapters, begins with Scout beating someone up. In this case, that someone is Cecil Jacobs. But why is Stone Cold Scout Finch mule-kicking her classmates into next Tuesday and finishing them off with a hearty chokeslam?
As it turns out, Atticus is defending a black man in court, and Maycomb is decidedly not about that. The whole town has pretty much turned against him. Cecil Jacobs is just one of the many people calling Atticus the kind of racial epithet that you really shouldn’t say unless you’re J. Cole and you’re in the middle of rapping “Neighbors.”
Scout asks Atticus what’s going on. Atticus tells her about Tom Robinson, the man he’s been asked to defend. Tom is a member of Calpurnia’s church, and a family man. But because he’s black, everyone thinks it’s a disgrace that Atticus took the case after Tom was arrested. Scout asks why he took it, and Atticus says he couldn’t live with himself if he didn’t. He then asks her to control her temper and quit curb stomping people on his behalf. Scout agrees, for all of about five minutes.
It’s Christmastime, and Uncle Jack (Atticus’s brother) comes to visit. Scout is a big fan of her uncle, but he’s not as big a fan of her newfound propensity for casual swearing. When she asks him to “pass the damn ham, please” at suppertime, he tells her never to use words like that unless provoked. I feel like Uncle Jack doesn’t realize that “pass the damn ham, please” is the funniest string of words in the English language, but I guess that’s his problem, not mine.
It also kind of foreshadows the greatest ham-related costume in the history of costumes:
But we’re not quite there yet. In good time, my friends.
On Christmas day, they all head over to Finch’s Landing, where Scout must contend with her cousin Francis. Francis is every obnoxious cousin you’ve ever had, the one you couldn’t stand but whom your parents forced you to play with anyway.
Francis is such an annoying box of farts that Scout can scarcely stop herself from punching him right in his stupid face. The fact that Francis starts throwing around that word we talked about earlier isn’t helping. He says Atticus is shaming the family for defending Tom Robinson, that he’s an embarrassment, and that they’ll never be able to show their faces in town after this. Which is weird, because that’s exactly what my family says about me. But it’s less because I took a stand against injustice and more because of who I am as a person.
So Scout goes after Francis in spite of her earlier promise to Atticus about not triple axe-kicking people. She also calls him a “whore-lady,” in spite of her earlier promise to Jack about not swearing. When the adults arrive on the scene, Jack doesn’t give Scout a chance to explain what happened. He wallops her, I guess because this is 1934 and you can do that kind of thing.
Scout stays angry at Uncle Jack all the way back to Maycomb. When he comes to her room to help bandage her split knuckle (an injury she sustained while she was showing Francis her mean right hook), Scout tells him he “ain’t fair.” He didn’t listen to her side of the story; he simply decided she was guilty. He did, after all, tell her it was okay to swear if provoked. Uncle Jack gives her a chance to explain herself, and when she tells him what Francis called Atticus, Jack just about heads out to Finch’s Landing to give Francis his own triple axe kick. Scout persuades him not to. She doesn’t want Atticus to know what they were scuffling about.
Later, Jack asks Atticus “how bad” things are going to get once the trial starts. The answer: real bad. Tom Robinson doesn’t have a chance, he says. It’s his word against the Ewells’, who are, as you’ll remember, Pretty Much the Worst People in All of Maycomb County but nonetheless extremely white. Tom is black, so whether he’s guilty or not is irrelevant. The trial hasn’t even started, but Tom’s fate, according to Atticus, has been sealed. It’s a horrifying prospect, but what’s most horrifying is how familiar this dynamic is and how little things appear to have changed in eighty years.
Scout listens to this conversation, hidden from view, until Atticus tells her to go to bed. She doesn’t know how he figured out she was eavesdropping, but realizes later that he wanted her to hear every word.
“Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win,” Atticus said.
THIS AND THAT
Harper Lee often draws parallels between small, inconsequential injustices and larger ones. Jack doesn’t bother trying to empathize with Scout before he punishes her; later, Atticus believes, the jury will do the same to Tom Robinson.
Somewhere in there, Francis also mentions to Scout that Dill doesn’t have a home, that he gets “passed around from relative to relative, and Miss Rachel keeps him every summer.”
We don’t see much of Aunt Alexandra, Atticus’s sister, in this chapter, but we sure will later. For now, all you need to know is that she wants to Scout to be more of a lady, and she hates overalls.