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Education in To Kill a Mockingbird Essay


Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird, published in the year of 1960, is the American classic novel awarded the Pulitzer Prize in fiction as well as the Brotherhood Award of the National Conference of Christians and Jews. The racism which is prevalent in many small American towns in the 1930s is illustrated with profound imagery in To Kill a Mockingbird. Although there are several characters in the book, the true main character is the young narrator's father, Atticus Finch, a man of great integrity and intelligence. He is a very heroic figure in more ways than one. Atticus possesses such traits as being principled, determined, and what's more, he's a teacher to others. By looking at To Kill a Mockingbird, one can see that Lee utilizes physical description, dialogue, and actions to characterize Atticus as a heroic individual; this is important because Atticus is a very serene, but spirited man.

The most important legacy Atticus teaches in To Kill a Mockingbird is the message about how best to educate a child. From the beginning of the book, it's obvious that Atticus' life is down in luck. "It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyways and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do"(124). He strives to instill in Scout and Jem three specific values: spirit, bravery and tolerance of others. Atticus tries to clarify the disposition that's shown in the book by saying that it's important to appreciate the good qualities in people and comprehend the bad qualities by treating others with compassion or trying to see life from their standpoints. "If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view--until you climb into his skin and walk around in it" (30). He teaches this life lesson to show that it's possible to live with principles without losing sight of hope or acting skeptical. For example, Atticus is able to highly regard Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose's courage even though he disapproves of Mrs. Dubose's continuous acts of racism. "She had her own views about things, a lot different from mine, maybe...son, I told you that if you hadn't lost your head I'd have made you go read to her. I wanted you to see something about her-I wanted you to see what real courage is instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand" (128). Scout's change of maturity level is defined by a steady progression towards understanding Atticus' distinct life lessons, which conclude at the ending chapters of the book when Scout recognizes Arthur "Boo" Radley as a human being. After the eventful night when Bob Ewell's life comes abruptly to a halt, Boo Radley exposes himself as a kindhearted and sympathetic man with whom Scout can relate. Thereafter, Scout keeps all beliefs safely secure as she leaves behind a youth's innocence. Scout is being taught very well by Atticus, academically and in general. Atticus already knows how to lead a successful life and is more than obliged to show his daughter the ropes.

Lack of logical agreement among situations in Maycomb is what forces Atticus to remain consistent. "Atticus Finch is the same in his house as he is on the public streets" (46). The code of conduct Atticus maintains for himself remains the same no matter what he may have to apply it to. That's why he feels the responsibility to undertake Tom Robinson's case and defend him as best as he possibly can. Otherwise, he would see himself as a hypocrite. "This case, Tom Robinson's case, is something that goes to the essence of a man's conscience; Scout, I couldn't go to church and worship God if I didn't try to help that man" (104). Although Atticus seems somewhat composed and maybe even conservative, many beliefs he holds are quite radical. He allows the black cook, Calpurnia, to truly be a member of the family and gives Calpurnia full respect at all times. When Cal takes Jem and Scout to Maycomb's lower class church, Aunt Alexandra throws a fit, while Atticus seems most unaffected. At times, Atticus may almost seem a caricature of goodness. Never once does he falter or think ill of people. In Harper Lee's capable hands, Atticus is convincing and authentic. He quietly passes down wisdom to the children about touchy subjects, such as racism. "When a child asks you something, answer him for goodness' sake. But don't make a production of it. Children are children, but they can spot an evasion quicker than adults, and evasion simply muddle 'em" (74). Not only is Atticus daring and sincere with Scout and Jem, but to himself as well. Atticus' wife dies when the children are two and six-years-old, so he has to carry on without the assistance of a wife. It is very difficult to watch over children while attending to a busy job a majority of the time. The ethics Atticus has faith in seem perfectly true and hold great meaning to them. This supports the fact he will stop at nothing to stand out and speak up for what he believes in all of the time.

As previously mentioned, Atticus has a demanding career as a lawyer. Tom Robinson, the young man Atticus will be defending, pays for the relentless stereotypes that are made in Maycomb every day. There is a fear of black male sexuality, triggered by stories of white women being raped and defiled by black men. "As you grow older, you'll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don't you forget it- whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash" (220). These situations aren't inevitable, but occur all the time and it's a pity that people have to resort to such a low level of inequity. When the Ewell's make a rape charge against Tom, Tom's judgment comes not from facts, but the general classification that clouds every jury member and citizen of Maycomb. "The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow, but people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box" (220). Others do not take the time to understand Tom, and fear or hate him with dishonesty. Tom isn't the only race in Maycomb that is victimized. A white man, Dolphus Raymond, is a prime example of the town's serious lack of judgment. Dolphus has been written off as a drunk who lives among the black community. When Dill and Scout sit and talk with him, they find the only beverage he "abuses" is Coca-Cola. Mostly the entire town believes that some people should just be completely ignored, but sometimes they don't look at what's right under their very noses. During the Robinson trial, Atticus questions Tom and it's revealed that Bob Ewell physically, emotionally, and sexually abuses the Ewell children, including Mayella. After Tom is wrongfully accused of rape, Bob and the entire Ewell family are see as a lot of imprudent liars. "Jem, see if you can stand in Bob Ewell's shoes a minute. I destroyed his last shred of credibility at that trial, if he had any to begin with. The man had to have some kind of comeback, his kind always does" (215). After the case is over and done with, Bob approaches and intimidates the people he feels have wronged him. Atticus, being one of them, receives various threats and spits in his face. "So if spitting in my space and threatening me saved Mayella Ewell one extra beating, that's something I'll gladly take. He had to take it out on somebody and I'd rather it be me than that houseful of children out there" (211). The children of Bob Ewell are lucky to have a man that cares about what will happen to them besides Mr. Ewell, who couldn't care less of the children's existence to the world. Atticus cares very much for others, which makes him all the more courageous.

Decisively, Atticus is strong through his characterization in the book. Atticus disregards the disadvantage he has in Tom's trial and teaches others with all he's got. He never becomes jaded throughout To Kill a Mockingbird, and clarifies his own significance in the novel. This is very important because he is a representative for the people of Maycomb, Jem, Scout, the entire Robinson family, and all the other misunderstood "mockingbirds" of the town. He is an honorable man to which no other character can compare. Atticus Finch proves worthy of being a great lawyer, father, friend and companion. The simple acts of heroism shown by Atticus saves Maycomb from sinking lower in the mess than they've already put themselves at. For this, he does the town justice and becomes the man they've been looking for all along.

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