Courage in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mocking Bird


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To Kill A Mockingbird - Courage

 

 

Webster's dictionary defines courage as "mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty." According to Atticus Finch, one of the main characters in To Kill A Mockingbird, "Courage is when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what." (Chapter 11, Page 124) No matter how you define it, Harper Lee definitely portrays the theme of courage in this book. It is one of the most predominant themes and is shown in many of the characters. All of the characters have a different view as to what courage is and they all show it a different way, however they do show courage in their everyday lives.

 

For a younger character, like Scout, courage is most often associated with a physical act that is usually dangerous. It is hard for young children like that to realize that greater courage is shown in other aspects of life. Scout sees an example of courage in her father when he shoots the mad dog. Although Atticus did not think of it as very courageous, Jem and Scout were proud of their father and the courage he showed in the situation. He was not trying to prove anything, yet they were still impressed. Later on in the story, Jem and Scout encounter the vindictive Mrs. Dubose. "Your father's no better than the niggers and trash he works for!" (Chapter 11, Page 113) When she bad- mouthed Atticus like that, Jem decided that the best way to settle things was to ruin Mrs. Dubose's camellias. After Atticus heard about this stunt, Jem was made to read to her every afternoon for a month. Mrs. Dubose was a very sick lady, and had morphine to ease her pain. It was not until after she died that Atticus explained to Jem and Scout how courageous the lady was because she knew she was dying but was still determined to die free of the morphine. She fought against great odds, even though she knew that she would surely die. Between these two examples Atticus set, and the many more he showed in the way he lived his life, Scout was taught to stop fighting with her fists and to try and overcome opposing opinions with her head, rather than with physical violence.

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"Real courage" is when you fight for what is right regardless of whether you win or lose. Atticus Finch defines "real courage" and demonstrates it several times throughout the novel, in addition to the lessons that he teaches his children. He shows them mainly in the long period of time during Tom Robinson's case. It first started when Atticus took the case. He went against Maycomb, a generally prejudice town, in order to defend Tom. He understood that taking the case would make him an object of ridicule and that no one would forgive him for believing in a black man's word rather than a white man's. Even his own sister expresses disapproval of his decision, practically telling him he was bringing disgrace on the family. But, no matter how much his reputation suffered, he did not change his mind. Standing up for his morals and ethics was more important then what people thought about him. Atticus knows he will not win the case and like Mrs. Dubose in her battle against morphine, he is "licked" before he begins. Atticus's strong sense of morality and justice motivates him to defend Tom Robinson with determination, and giving it all he has got. He shows this when he says, "Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try and won." He wants the people of Maycomb to hear the truth about Tom, "That boy may go to the chair, but he's not going till the truth's told." (Chapter 15, Page 146) Atticus later shows bravery when he went to the jailhouse to protect Tom from a mob. Without thinking twice he rushed to Tom's aid. He went willingly; knowing that if a mob did form he would be greatly outnumbered and would easily be beaten. Still, he put Tom's well being after his own welfare.

 

While in the courtroom Atticus also showed great courage. He did not go along with it when Heck Tate told a lie about what really happened the night Bob Ewell was found stabbed to death. Atticus put his life and career in the line. He knew, as an officer of the court, that withholding information from an investigation could have gotten him thrown in jail. Nonetheless, like many times before, doing what was right and fair prevailed in Atticus's way of thinking. In addition, Atticus went against his moral code and principles he had always upheld before, when Atticus is faced with the decision of abiding by the law or breaking it in order to do the right thing. He knew that incarcerating a man like Arthur would have been unforgivable. Especially after Arthur had performed a great deed by saving his children's lives. He knew that exposing him would be an awful way of repaying him; it would have been like "shooting a mockingbird." So, Atticus chose to protect Boo from the public eye rather than abide by the law and his "honest" ways he was so accustomed to follow. Sometimes it takes even more courage to set a new level of morals then to stay in your comfort zone.

 

In conclusion, Atticus shows praiseworthy courage and behavior, in many instances, throughout the story. Not by fighting or killing, but by standing up for what he believed in a civilized and determined way. His strongest motivation, however, were his kids. He wanted to be a good example to his kids and instill in them a strong sense of moral values. One time he was asked by Scout why he had taken a case he knew he wasn't going to win and he responded by saying, "For a number of reasons. The main one 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." (Chapter 9, Page 75) In other words, he would not have been able to preach to his kids about justice and standing up for what one believes when he himself had not stood for what he believed in. But, most of all he does it to uphold his self-worth. He wants to know that there's no reason for him to hang his head in shame and shy away when he's walking down the streets. He wants to live without regrets, and to him that's the only way you can say you are really living.

 


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