Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird highlights examples of heroism and courage in a small Alabama town plagued with racism and poverty. The novel focuses on the experiences of the Finch family which consists of Atticus, Jem, and Scout. Scout serves as the narrator of the book; her story is based on her recollections of the events leading up to, during, and after her father’s defense of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping Mayell Ewell, a white woman. To Kill a Mockingbird is not only a critique of racism, but teaches valuable life lessons about moral courage and standing up for what is right.
The protagonist, Atticus, displays both moral and physical courage throughout the novel. He is committed to instilling in his children the importance of living an ethical lifestyle regardless of the circumstances. For example, he explains to Scout that he accepted the Tom Robinson case because it is a moral obligation for equal representation. Specifically, he clarifies to Scout that the primary reason is ” if I didn’t I couldn’t hold up my head in town, I couldn’t represent this county in the legislature, I couldn’t even tell you or Jem not to do something again” (Lee 83).
Atticus believes that it is only fair to judge one in terms of that individual’s moral caliber not by the color of their skin. Furthermore, he does not condone retaliation. Even though Mrs. Dubose, a morphine addict, is prejudice and unkind, Atticus reprimands Jem for behaving heartlessly towards her. Atticus never loses his composure even when Bob Ewell maliciously spits in his face. He rationally explains, “He had to take it out on somebody and I’d rather it be me than that houseful of children out there. You understand? ” (Lee 218).
Harper Lee’s lesson is that a person’s morals should not be affected by other’s behaviors or beliefs. Honor Above All 1 Steiner 2 Harper Lee creates the narrator, Scout, to demonstrate that morality is not necessarily instinctive but can be taught. As the novel progresses, Scout realizes that moral courage is more difficult to carry out than physical courage. No one in the community wants to associate with Boo Radley; however, Scout comes to recognize his compassion and returns it with civility. Although initially fearful, Scout welcomes Boo’s gifts and embraces his differences.
Again, Scout demonstrates that morality can be learned when a potentially violent situation arises at playground with another classmate; she refrains from using force. Her calmer nature proves effective at the courthouse. She harmlessly inquires about Mr. Cunningham’s family, “Hey Mr. Cunningham. I know your son, Walter he is a nice kid. We go to school together…” (Lee 81). Her kindness results in the scattering of the angry townspeople. Scout witnesses that kindness is effective tool to avert violence. The minor characters of Calpurnia, Tom Robinson, and Boo Radley are symbols of decency and respect regardless of their backgrounds.
Calpurnia chastises Scout for mocking Walter’s unsophisticated eating habits. “Hush your mouth! Don’t matter who they are, anybody sets foot in this house’s yo’ comp’ny, and don’t you let me catch you remarkin’ on their ways like you was so high and mighty…! ” (Lee 33). Calpurnia is a maternal figure for the Finch children as she too, similarly to Atticus, helps them to differentiate right from wrong. Tom Robinson exhibits courage when he volunteers to help Mayella Ewell with household chores even though he is aware of his inferior social standing.
His decision to speak only the truth in court by stating, “I felt right sorry for her; she seemed to try more’n the rest of ’em. ,”(Lee 197) further demonstrates his caring demeanor and commitment to behave courteously. Lee includes the character of Boo to Honor Above All 2 Steiner 3 depict another type of prejudice: social discrimination. Despite his social alienation, Boo courageously abandons the safety of his home to help ‘his kids. ’ Boo is guided by his sense of what is right and puts aside society’s rejection. Calpurnia, Tom Robinson, and Boo are guided by morality.
Courage can be defined as the ability to face fear, pain, uncertainty, and the unknown. Harper Lee effectively uses her characters to demonstrate moral and immoral choices and consequences. Atticus and Scout respond to the town’s racism with a resolute sense of purpose. Through her father’s and Calpurnia’s guidance she becomes more refined and tolerant. She averts physical confrontations at school and understands that morality should not change with each situation. The character of Tom Robinson symbolizes what it truly means to be a caring human being. Regardless of the racism that he endures, he is honest and compassionate.
While racism plays a significant role in Lee’s novel; the importance of moral courage cannot be understated. As Atticus profoundly advises, “You’ll never know really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… ” (Lee 65). Harper Lee conveys that since justice is blind to race, gender, and differences a moral code is the only hope for equality. Unfortunately, as exhibited in the novel, adhering to one’s moral code does not always guarantee the desired or just outcome. Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. London: Vintage Classics, 2007. Print. Honor Above All 3.
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