Courage is defined as "that quality of mind or spirit enabling one to meet danger or opposition with fearlessness." According to Atticus Finch, one of the main characters in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper lee, "Courage is when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.” (Lee, 124) No matter how one defines it, Harper Lee clearly portrays the theme of courage in her novel, To Kill A Mockingbird. It is one of the most predominant themes and is shown in many of the characters because what is a hero if they are not courageous? One likes to think of a hero, as strong, brave, fearless, meeting all challenges head on. All of the characters have a different view as to what courage is, and they all show it a different way; however, they do show courage in their everyday lives. Younger characters, like Jem and Scout, see the physical aspect of it, whereas Atticus believes this to be an extremely weak form of courage. He believes in the mental quality of courage; he admires Mrs. Dubose for her attempt to rid herself from some of the evil that still grasped at her life as she died.
For a younger character, like Scout, courage is most often associated with a physical act that is usually dangerous. It is hard for young children like that to realize that greater courage can be shown in other aspects of life. Scout sees an example of courage in her father when he shoots the mad dog. Although Atticus does not think of it as very courageous, Jem and Scout are proud of their father and the courage he showed in the dangerous situation. Atticus knows that the dog did not stand a chance; it was delirious so therefore could not think straight. In addition, he was holding a gun; the odds were stacked too highly on his side for his liking. He was not trying to prove a point; he was merely fulfilling his civic duty, yet they were still impressed.
Later on in the story, Jem and Scout encounter the vindictive Mrs. Dubose who often shouts out racism directed at the passing children because of Atticus’ deeds. At one point she proclaimed, "Your father's no better than the niggers and trash he works for!” (Lee, 113) When she blatantly made Atticus an object of ridicule like that, Jem decided that the best way to settle things was to ruin Mrs. Dubose's camellias. Since he could not attack Mrs. Dubose directly, Jem decided to go for something close to her. He is committing a physical act of retaliation, which led to her suffering mental pain yet again. It was a cowardly act, for he dared not step up and confront her, telling Mrs. Dubose why and what his problems were. After Atticus heard about this stunt, Jem was made to read to her every afternoon for a month. He now needed mental velour, and he did find it more difficult to source this than the physical bravery he was used to displaying. This is made apparent by him refusing to walk past her house alone, and because Jem was at first terrified of going to see her.
Mrs. Dubose was a very sick woman, and had used morphine to ease her pain. It was her goal to leave the world “beholden to nothing and nobody.” (Lee, 120) She displayed what Atticus refers to as “real courage.” (Lee, 121) She showed “real courage” because she does not have the luxury of standing there with a gun pointed at her addiction. One single attempt could not free her from the addiction. Rather, it was a multiple stage process over an extended period of time. This was far more difficult because where in a single act, the single moment might be more difficult, whereas, over a longer time-span, her brain repeatedly told her that she was a doomed, so why suffer the agony? It was shear determination and “real courage” that allowed her to accomplish her goal. It was not until after she died that Atticus explained to Jem and Scout how courageous the woman was because she knew she was dying but was still determined to die free of the morphine. She fought against great odds, even though she knew that she would surely die. "Real courage" is when you fight for what is right regardless of whether you win or lose. Atticus Finch defines "real courage" and demonstrates it several times throughout the novel, in addition to the lessons that he teaches his children. The largest and most important example would be the Trial of Tom Robinson. When Atticus took the case, he went against Maycomb, a generally racist town, in order to defend Tom. He understood that taking the case would make him an object of ridicule and that no one would forgive him for believing in a black man's word rather than a white man's. Even his own sister expresses disapproval of his decision, practically telling him he was bringing disgrace on the family, along with his family calling referring him to a “Nigger lover”. Nevertheless, no matter how much his reputation suffered, he did not change his mind. Standing up for his morals and ethics was more important than what people thought about him. Atticus knows he will not win the case and like Mrs. Dubose in her battle against morphine, he is "licked" (Lee, 121) before he begins.
Atticus's strong sense of morality and justice motivates him to defend Tom Robinson with determination, and giving it all he has. He shows this when he says, "Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try and win.” (Lee, 80) He says this to Scout after she comes home from school angry with Cecil Jacobs for making fun of Atticus in the schoolyard. Atticus tells her to fight with her head instead of her fists. He wants the people of Maycomb to hear the truth about Tom, "That boy may go to the chair, but he's not going till the truth's told.” (Lee, 146) Atticus later shows bravery when he goes to the jailhouse to protect Tom from a mob. Without thinking twice, he rushed to Tom's aid. He went willingly, knowing that if a mob did form he would be greatly outnumbered and would easily be beaten. Still, he put Tom's well being ahead of his own welfare.
While serving justice, Atticus also showed great courage. For example, he did not go along with Heck Tate when he told a lie about what really happened the night Bob Ewell was found stabbed to death. Atticus put his life and career in the line because he knew that, as an officer of the court, withholding information from an investigation could have gotten Mr. Tate thrown in jail. Nonetheless, like many times before, doing what was right and fair prevailed in Atticus's way of thinking. In addition, Atticus went against his moral code and principles he had always upheld before, when Atticus is faced with the decision of abiding by the law or breaking it in order to do the right thing. He knew that incarcerating a man like Arthur would have been unforgivable, especially after Arthur had performed a great deed by saving his children's lives. He knew that exposing him would be an awful way of repaying him; it would have been like "shooting a mockingbird.” Therefore, Atticus chose to protect Boo from the public eye rather than abide by the law and his "honest" judicial ways he was so accustomed to follow. Sometimes it takes even more courage to set a new level of morals than to stay in one’s comfort zone. (Lee, 238-242)
Conclusively, it is obvious that characters in To Kill a Mockingbird displays acts of moral courage even when they are fighting a losing battle. Mrs.Dubose overcomes her morphine addiction; Atticus perseveres until the truth was told for Tom’s sake; Jem and Scout understand and show acts of moral courage as they mature. Harper Lee’s novel created the belief that courage is when you’re afraid to do something but you do it, even though you know your going to lose.