“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. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”
To Kill a Mockingbird is probably one of my favorite pieces of literature to date. The novel is narrated by Scout, the youngest daughter of Atticus Finch, a lawyer chosen to defend a black man charged with the rape of a white woman. Through the use of a first person narrative, the novel is able to tackle issues regarding race, discrimination, morality and human decency in a brilliant way. Due to Scout’s young age she is unable to understand the magnitude of some of the events taking place around her, and as events progress she is forced to come to terms with and become educated on such events and what they mean. Scout’s education regarding courage, morality and the proper and fair ways individuals must be judged is central to this novel, and is developed through the help of those surrounding her. It is this consistent child- like innocence that makes the novel and the messages within it so impactful, and is why it remains ones of the greatest pieces of American literature I have ever read.
This is a novel all about courage. Harper Lee showed courage in the very publication of the novel, having written it prior to the passing of the Civil Rights Act, and it is this courage that is reflected in almost every single character in her novel. Atticus Finch is courageous in his decision to defend Tom, and this is a characteristic that he successfully tries to instill in his children. We can see this courage in Jem and Scout early in the novel, from the courage they showed to go to the Radley house despite the tales they’d heard to Scout’s courage in her act of telling the teacher how things worked in their town. Atticus’ lessons to his children in having the courage to stand up to injustice and fight for what is right which is an important lesson for us all, even today.
The above is a theme that is heavily tied to another important message within the book: that we must put ourselves into others’ shoes and attempt to truly understand them before we judge them. This is a book about kindness and compassion for others, even when we know we are right. As Atticus says, “you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it”, which is something seen to be exercised frequently within the narrative through characters such as Dubose (who is revealed to be dealing with poor health) and even Ewell (who is eventually understood to be trying to defend the last of his honour). It is important to note however, that the novel does not try to claim that deep down everybody is good. The message is that we must try to understand them even if their views and actions are unjustified, and I think it is this message that is one of the most impactful (and is one that subsequently makes the story an absolute favourite of mine).
Moreover, the very portrayal of Atticus Finch is one that I adore. Lee succeeds in creating a character that is a complete role model not just as a father to his children, but as a person. He is someone to aspire to and is a person that we could all learn a lesson from. But what I love most about her characterization of Atticus is her success in keeping him completely human, giving him admirable qualities that are completely attainable. He is loved by the audience because he never fails to exercise human decency, and this is what makes his character so important and powerful.
However, it is not just the character of Atticus that is important to this story. The supporting characters and the relations they have to one another are equally as important. For instance, the characters of Calpurnia and Reverend Sykes aid Scout in her education on what it means to be courageous, particularly when they invite Scout and Jem to sit with them on the balcony. The importance of all of the characters, no matter how minor, must not be overlooked as they all serve to aid Scout’s education on the subjects of morality, human decency and courage.
Overall, Lee expertly creates a narrative that flows incredibly well and teaches a range of lessons that are still extremely important to this day. This novel will forever remain a favorite of mine, and I truly hope the importance of the lessons it provides will stick with me for the rest of my life!