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The Development of Conscience in To Kill a Mockingbird

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To Kill A Mockingbird gives many important themes and lessons to ponder. There’s the theme of racism, sexism, and personal bias. But the most obvious was the theme of innocence to experience. Harper Lee explores this theme through the character of Scout Finch the things she does, the people she is surrounded by, and the events she witnesses. All of this culminates in Scout’s newly formed conscience at the end of the book. At the beginning of the book, Scout lives freely, never thinking before she acts. But that changes when she starts school and the events of the book unfold. An example of this is shown when Calpurnia lectures Scout for getting angry with Walter Cunningham and the way he chooses to put syrup all over his food. “There’s some folk who don’t eat like us,[…] but [Scout] ain’t called on to contradict ‘em at the table when they don’t” (Lee, 24). This conversation also comes into play further on in the story when aunt Alexandra tells Scout she is too good to socialize with Walter. Because of the conversation she had with Calpurnia, Scout is able to consider both sides and come to her own conclusion.

Another example of this is when Scout attempts to pick a fight with Walter, but Jem comes in and convinces Scout to let him go. After the altercation, Jem invites Walter over for lunch, knowing that otherwise he probably would end up eating nothing at all. Through these actions, Scout learns how to be charitable while also allowing the other person to keep their pride. Finally, Scout learns that violence is not the answer after beating up Cecil Jacobs when he calls her father a nigger lover. After this happens Atticus tells Scout to “hold [her] head up high and keep [her] fists down” (101). A lot of the lessons that Scout learns, she learns through her actions and the consequences to them. She learns to not judge, be charitable, and to not solve conflicts through violence. These lessons go on to shape the person she becomes at the end of the book. Scout’s conscience is also largely developed by the people she interacts with throughout the story.

The main character is surrounded by many people, some represented as good, and some as bad. Scout learns many lessons from each character, a primary example being Atticus. Atticus teaches Scout many lessons during their numerous conversations throughout the book. One example of a lesson he teaches her is empathy. After Scout’s first day of school, she tells Atticus about her bad day and that she doesn’t like her teacher because she said that Scout and Atticus cannot read together anymore. To which Atticus responds, “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). Atticus helps Scout to understand that in their own minds, everyone thinks that they are right, and people have different opinions due to different upbringings. He helps Scout to understand that, as long as they are not hurting anyone, she must respect their opinion and move on. Jem also has a large but indirect influence on Scout. In the book, he functions somewhat like a teacher and someone that Scout looks up to.

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Much of Jem’s contribution is showing Scout that it’s alright to grow up. By the end of the book, Jem has grown into a young man. In seeing this, Scout feels ready to grow up as well. Finally, Miss Maudie is another influential character in Scout’s life, teaching her many lessons throughout the book. One of her biggest lessons though is having strength and courage. After Miss Maudie’s house burns down, she doesn’t grieve. When Scout comments on this. Miss Maudie replies “ Grieving child? Why, I hated that old cow barn. Thought of settin’ fire to it a hundred times myself, except they’d lock me up” (73). Even when her possessions had been burned, Miss Maudie had a strength that amazed and confused Scout. Lastly, Scout develops her conscience through the events she experiences. Throughout the book, Scout witnesses’ events that change the way she looks at many things in life. These end up shaping what she defines as right and wrong.

The first event she experiences is Atticus shooting Harry Johnson’s dog. This teaches Scout humility because Atticus turns out to be the best shot in Maycomb county, but Scout never knew because Atticus never bragged about it. Jem and Scout talk to Miss Maudie who tells them that Atticus was “[…] the deadest shot in Maycomb County in his time” (98). Shortly after this, Calpurnia takes them to the Black church. There they learn about compassion through Reverend Sykes and his determination to collect ten dollars in order to help Tom Robinson’s wife look after the kids. Finally, the last and largest event that Scout witnesses is the Tom Robinson Trial. This is likely the largest event to take place in the entire book, stretching over many chapters. Through this trial, Scout learns about the many injustices towards people of colour, and the importance of equal rights. This is shown when Atticus is going over the evidence and Jem tells Scout “[…] we’re gonna win, Scout. I don’t see how we can’t. He’s been at it ‘bout five minutes. He made it as plain and easy as – […] You could’ve understood it, even” (202).

At this point in the trial, Jem, a kid, is easily able to understand that Tom Robinson is innocent. He even states that it is so clear that Scout should be able to understand it. But despite that, Tom Robinson is sent to jail, showing Scout how unjust the world can be. It is because of these actions, interactions, and events that Scout has a fully developed conscience at the end of the book. Through these points, Scout can go from innocence to experience, and Lee is able to show how much the environment that surrounds you affects that journey. Lee is able to show that it is because of Scout’s upbringings, and only Scout’s upbringings, that she can grow into the person she is at the end of the book.

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The Development of Conscience in To Kill a Mockingbird. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved January 29, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-development-of-conscience-in-to-kill-a-mockingbird/
“The Development of Conscience in To Kill a Mockingbird.” Edubirdie, 29 Jun. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/the-development-of-conscience-in-to-kill-a-mockingbird/
The Development of Conscience in To Kill a Mockingbird. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-development-of-conscience-in-to-kill-a-mockingbird/> [Accessed 29 Jan. 2023].
The Development of Conscience in To Kill a Mockingbird [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 29 [cited 2023 Jan 29]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-development-of-conscience-in-to-kill-a-mockingbird/
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