To Kill a Mockingbird
To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird Chapter 11 Quotes Page 1

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(chapter.paragraph)

"Scout," said Atticus, "nigger-lover is just one of those terms that don't mean anything—like snot-nose. It's hard to explain—ignorant, trashy people use it when they think somebody's favoring Negroes over and above themselves. It's slipped into usage with some people like ourselves, when they want a common, ugly term to label somebody."

"You aren't really a nigger-lover, then, are you?"

"I certainly am. I do my best to love everybody... I'm hard put, sometimes—baby, it's never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn't hurt you." (11.107-109)

In giving Scout a lesson in How Racism Works 101, Atticus also does the same for the audience. On the syllabus in this conversation: the power of language, not only as a way to shame those who don't toe the racist line, but also to set the terms of the debate. Racists use "nigger-lover" to suggest that a person is trying to give African-Americans special rights, but Atticus points out that all he's arguing for is equality, loving everybody the same. The end of the quote is basically a grown-up version of "I'm rubber and you're glue," suggesting that schoolyard taunt actually has some merit—some insults do tell you more about the person hurling them than about their target.

Quote 2

"Atticus, you must be wrong...."

"How's that?"

"Well, most folks seem to think they're right and you're wrong...." (11.54-56)

If there's one thing that we learned from jeggings, Uggs, and chain wallets, it's that the majority isn't always right. But Atticus doesn't need anyone to teach him that lessons. He already knows that individual conscience is a better guide to justice than majority opinion.

When we were small, Jem and I confined our activities to the southern neighborhood, but when I was well into the second grade at school and tormenting Boo Radley became passé, the business section of Maycomb drew us frequently up the street past the real property of Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose. It was impossible to go to town without passing her house unless we wished to walk a mile out of the way. Previous minor encounters with her left me with no desire for more, but Jem said I had to grow up some time. (11.1)

Growing up is great. You get your driver's license, a later curfew, and then you get to go off to college and eat pizza whenever you want. And then you start your first job, and you realize that you can't afford to eat out all the time and you can't skip your job if you're up late watching a Real Housewives marathon. Turn out, growing up means that you have to face unpleasant things instead of avoiding them—and you can't actually do what you want all the time.

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