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Essay on Courage in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’

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In order to determine one's courage, they first need to explore the many definitions of what it means to be courageous. Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird teaches people that courage does not mean that they live without fear, rather it's about showing bravery to stand up to it. She shows this through the characters; Atticus Finch, Boo Radley, and Scout Finch.

To start, in this novel a significant representation of courage is seen within Atticus. In To Kill a Mockingbird Atticus must face a court case that will have a major personal effect on himself and his family. He summons the courage to realize that there needs to be justice and that it is his duty to accomplish this. Mrs. Maudie later supports his actions when she tells the children “ There are some men in this world who are born to do our unpleasant jobs for us. Your father’s one of them” ( Lee 288 ). Atticus demonstrates that he has the courage to overcome the fear of others' dislikes despite the consequences of doing so. At the beginning of the novel, it is evident that Scout and Jem see their father as an old, talentless man. One day, there is a situation of stray dog roaming the streets with the name of Tim Johnson. Once Heck-Tate is called he decides to turn the job of killing the stray over to Atticus, as he knows that he used to be called “One-Shot Finch”. Jem and Scout begin to wonder why their dad had never told them about this hidden talent. Atticus explains that “courage is not a man with a gun in his hand. It’s knowing you’re licked before you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do” (Lee 112). Atticus believes that courage is the ability to act on what you believe in despite your fears, and by telling his children this he hopes that their fears will never get in the way of their judgment. It is made very clear that Atticus only wants the best for his children. In order for them to be their best selves, they first must own up to their mistakes. This is why when Atticus believed Jem was the cause of Bob Ewell’s death, he told Heck that Jem must face his punishment. If Atticus were to stand by and give him a free pass it would be going against everything he’s taught. As he said, “You just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anyone says to you, don’t let ‘em get your goat”(Lee 76). He would not be the father he is if he did not teach them right from wrong. Atticus is seen as a leader in the novel, as everyone trusts him and his opinions. He shows not only courage but pride in every decision he makes which shapes him into the character that is portrayed.

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Additionally, courage is also demonstrated through Boo Radley. In To Kill a Mockingbird readers do not see or hear much about him. All that is known is what people hear from the rumors that are spread around Maycomb. Although there are not many words written directly about him, Harper Lee manages to develop a character for Boo through hidden details. He proves that some of the rumors were wrong during the house fire. This is shown when Atticus says “we’d better keep the blanket to ourselves. Someday maybe Scout can thank him for covering her up”(Lee 96). This is the first scene that Boo is a part of physically, yet it still manages to be in mysterious way. For many years he has hidden in his house away from reality. Eventually, Boo learns to face his fears rather than hide from them when he leaves his house. As said by Jem “ I think I’m beginning to understand why Boo Radley’s stayed shut up in the house all this time… it’s because he wants to stay inside”.(Lee 304 ) No one in the town truly understands Boo for who he is and why he does what he does. It takes great courage for Boo to be able to leave the one place he knew he was safe. This is where readers begin to see him change and develop more. A huge part of Lee’s novel is when Boo saves the children from Bob Ewell. This is surprising to people because he is not seen as a selfless person. Just as Scout said, “ Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of Goodluck pennies, and our lives”.(Lee 278) Without the help of Boo Radley, the children could have lost their lives In this quote Scout explains that Boo is not your usual character, but still plays a significant role in To Kill a Mockingbird. Boo is seen throughout the details and fine lines. This is why people should never judge a book by its cover.

In addition, early in the novel, Scout demonstrates the courage she embodies. On her first day of school, Scout acts as a leader for the whole class. She steps up and informs Miss Caroline of Walter Cunningham’s situation. Scout says to her “You’re shaming him, Miss Caroline. Walter hasn’t got a quarter at home to bring you, and you can’t use any stovewood”. (Lee 28) When Scout said this she knew it could cause more conflict between her and her teacher but she took the risk and did it anyways. Scout is different than most other girls her age. She has grown up without a mother figure to look up to, which has led her to have to rely on her brother's and father's knowledge. This is not a bad thing but it has caused Scout to grow up as more of a tomboy. Her Aunt Alexandra was raised to be a proper, mature young lady and she feels as though Scout should be taught to be more like a lady. For instance “ Scout, you’ll get in trouble if you go around saying things like that. You want to grow up to be a lady, don’t you? I said not particularly”. (Lee 105 ) Despite what others think of her, Scout shows that she’s fine the way she is and that her opinion is above all else. Everyone is different in their own, unique way. If someone knows this best, it is Scout. Lee shows that Scout does not see the world in sectors but rather as a whole. She later defends Boo when she says “ well, it’d sort of be like shootin’ a mockingbird”. (Lee 280) Killing a mockingbird is earlier explained to be a sin as they do not deserve to be mistreated. Scout metaphorically applies her father's lesson by defining Boo Radley as a symbol of a mockingbird. Seeing as he is a shy, vulnerable person who does nothing to deserve hatred. This takes the utmost courage from Scout as she really is the first person to stand up for Boo, who is someone who is not liked or appreciated. Not only does Scout teach us the importance of always voicing our opinion, but she also teaches us acceptance of our own and others' differences.

As a result of all of the examples of courage, there is not a single situation when courage did not commence from a need within the character. Courage is the inner drive to succeed and do what is right, no matter the humiliation or consequences that you face due to your decision. Atticus, Boo, and Scout understood the risks that could occur but continued with their actions because they knew deep down it was what needed to be done. They did not all enter their problems expecting to win but they knew that by doing so they would show no regret for the courage they demonstrated as it was for the sake of good intentions.

Work Cited

  1. Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird. Script City, 1964
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Essay on Courage in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 10, 2023, from
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