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The Aspects of Courage in to Kill a Mockingbird

By Imakillerbunny Apr 12, 2013 1038 Words
Courage is a virtue all great heroes need. However, real courage takes more than mere bravado or overcoming of fear; there are several meanings of the word. In the book To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, the idea of courage can be seen in many forms and are illustrated through different characters. The book is set in the early 1900s, a time of racial segregation and the Great Depression in a small Alabama town called Maycomb. The main characters, Scout, Jem, and their father Atticus, experience many life lessons, make new friends and enemies, and gradually mature in the course of the story. Three of the main aspects of courage seen in To Kill a Mockingbird are fighting until the end, overcoming difficulties, and sacrificing for others. These types of courage are displayed through several characters including Mrs. Dubose, Atticus and Ms. Maudie. One of the first forms of courage introduced in To Kill a Mockingbird is the will to fight, even if defeat is inevitable. Mrs. Dubose is a cranky old woman with wrinkles and liver spots who Jem and Scout are forced to read to by Atticus. She has a nasty attitude towards the children, and constantly criticizes Atticus' parenting style and kindness toward the Black people. After Mrs. Dubose's death, it is revealed that she was a morphine addict, and Jem's reading to her helped her with overcoming her addiction. She decided she didn't want to die with her addiction, so she attempted to break free, even though she knew it would kill her. Atticus explains it as such: "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 that you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what" (Lee, 112). Atticus himself exemplifies this idea of courage by taking the case of Tom Robinson, a Black man, who is falsely accused of raping Mayella Ewell. Because of the racial segregation in the early 1900s, Atticus knows that it is nearly impossible to win the case. He explains to his brother, "It couldn't be worse, Jack. The only thing we've got is a Black man's word against the Ewells'...The jury couldn't possibly be expected to take Tom Robinson's word against the Ewells" (Lee, 88). However, Atticus fights as hard as he can for Tom. Even after the trial, he tells the children, "We're not through yet. There'll be an appeal, you can count on that." Despite certain defeat, Atticus battles until the end, like Mrs. Dubose. Another kind of courage seen in the story is overcoming obstacles with a positive attitude. Ms. Maudie is a middle aged lady who is neighbors and friends with Scout and Jem. She demonstrates this form of courage by her optimistic attitude, even after her house has been reduced to ashes. Her house burns down in the middle of the night, and she is forced to move in with someone else until she can rebuild it. Ms. Maudie cheerfully finds the positive things about her house being destroyed. She tells Jem and Scout, "Always wanted a smaller house, Jem Finch. Gives me more yard. Just think, I'll have more room for my aleazeas now...Why, I'll build me a little house, take a couple roomers and-gracious, I'll have the finest yard in Alabama" (Lee, 73). Another instance of this type of courage is illustrated by Aunt Alexandra, Atticus' sister. She and Scout have a poor relationship; Scout first describes her as, "Aunt Alexandra would've been analogous to Mount Everest: throughout my early life, she was cold and there." However, towards the end of the story, Scout learns how brave Aunt Alexandra truly is. After receiving the news that Tom Robinson has been shot, Scout beings to see Aunt Alexandra's true feelings. She reveals how emotionally hard it has been for her to watch Atticus suffer while taking Tom Robinson's case, yet she had been brave enough not to show her pain in any way. She proceeded to cheerfully host her missionary circle, even after just learning of the terrible news of Tom's death. Ms. Maudie and Aunt Alexandra courageously kept positive in their attitudes, despite the dilemmas they were forced to cope with. Another aspect of courage used by Lee is the concept of sacrificing for others. Atticus exemplifies this idea of courage by his personal sacrifices for Tom Robinson. Because most of the town has no respect for Black people, they are resentful toward Atticus for defending Tom Robinson, and Atticus puts up with abusive words and actions. In one instance, he goes to the jail specifically to protect Tom from a coming mob, even though he knows he will be greatly outnumbered and is putting himself in danger. Scout realizes Atticus' true courage when she discovers he was assigned to the case, yet he never used that fact as an excuse, "This was news, news that put a different light on things: Atticus had to, whether he wanted to or not. I thought it odd that he hadn't said anything to us about it � we could have used it many times in defending him and ourselves" (Lee, 163). Boo Radley also embodies this form of courage. He is a mysterious character who never leaves his house, raising the curiosity of Jem and Scout in the beginning of the novel. When Jem and Scout are attacked by Bob Ewell, in his revenge of Atticus, Boo Radley at last comes out his home and kills Bob Ewell to save the children. In this courageous act, he sacrifices remaining unidentified and shut in, and steps back into the world, even though he risks being put on trial for murder. Courage is a quality that is seen in both literature and real-life heroes. Harper Lee expresses in this story that courage can be conveyed in a variety of forms. Lee shows that small things like optimism during difficult times, to large things, like sacrificing one's reputation or life for another, or finishing a battle, even if defeat is certain, are things that identify heroes, in both this book and in life.

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