There are many themes in the book To Kill a Mockingbird, written by Harper Lee. However, one of the most important is courage. This theme is shown by almost all of the characters in the novel. Bravery is shown in the novel in different ways by different characters. Atticus is probably the most courageous character in the novel. Since Scout narrates the story and she admires her father, she describes with detail his qualities, many of which involve courage. According to Atticus, “courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what”, courage is not a man with a gun in his hand, courage is when you fight for what is right regardless of whether you win or lose. Atticus fits into his definition of what “real courage” is and demonstrates it several times throughout the novel.
In chapter 10, Atticus showed his children that he was a courageous man when he stepped into the street to face down a rabid dog. But shooting something wasn’t really Atticus’s idea of courage. He viewed courage on a more intellectual level, as a moral thing, not as something that can be proved with a weapon. Atticus wanted Jem and Scout to know that he was not courageous for being able to shoot a crazy dog dead with one shot, but he is courageous for defending Tom Robinson. He teaches them that being courageous is standing up for what you think is right no matter what others believe. Indeed, Atticus demonstrates courage when he undertakes the task of defending Tom Robinson, a black man wrongly accused of rape. The racist views of the town are against Atticus defending Tom Robinson. Atticus knows he won’t win the case and it takes courage for Atticus Finch to go against people’s beliefs in order to do what he believes was morally right. Atticus knows that Tom is innocent and that he must fight for him since no one else will.
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Atticus’s strong sense of morality and justice motivates him to defend Tom. He wants people in Maycomb to believe that “that boy might go to the chair, but he’s not going till the truth’s told”. Although Atticus is criticized for what he decides is right, he bravely ignores critics. Standing up for his convictions was more important than what people thought about him. In Chapter 15, Atticus manifested courage when he went to the jailhouse to protect Tom from the mob he knew was coming to threaten Tom Robinson. He went to help Tom. He knew that if a mob did gather he could get badly beaten. Still, he went determined to shield Tom from anything that could harm him, with no concern about himself. Last, but not least, Atticus showed courage when he went along with Heck Tate’s lie about what really happened the night Bob Ewell was found stabbed to death. Atticus put his life and career at threat. He knew he could have got into trouble as a lawyer by agreeing that Arthur Radley didn’t stab Bob Ewell to death. Nonetheless, like many times before, doing what was right and fair prevailed in Atticus’s way of thinking.
In conclusion, Atticus shows praiseworthy courage and exemplary behaviour by standing up for what he believed in a civilized but determined fashion. His strongest motivation, however, was his children. He wanted to be a good example to his kids and install in them a strong sense of moral values. One time he was asked by Scout why he had taken a case he knew he wasn’t going to win and he responded by saying, “For a number of reasons. The main one is, if I didn’t I couldn’t hold up my head in town, I couldn’t represent this county in the legislature, I couldn’t even tell you or Jem not to do something again.” But, most of all he wants to uphold his reputation and self-worth. He wants to know that there’s no reason for him to bend his head and shy away when he’s walking down the streets. He wants to live without regrets, and to him, that’s the best way to live life.
Jem is also shown as a very courageous character in the novel. Many incidences showed Jem holding his head up and being determined about his fair thoughts. In chapter 1, Dill made a bet with Jem that challenged Jem’s courage. Jem took the bet to touch the Radley house although he was really scared to do it. He couldn’t allow Dill and Scout to think him a coward. In chapter 4, Jem didn’t want to disappoint Atticus, he was forced to go back to the Radley place to retrieve his pants so that he wouldn’t have to explain where he’d lost them. Although he knew it was dangerous and he was scared to go, Jem went to the Radley place because he preferred going there than facing Atticus with explanations. (Both cases would have involved courage.) In chapter 11, Jem destroyed Mrs. Dubose’s camellias when it was a well-known rumour that she was armed with a Confederate pistol at all times.
Although Jem was familiar with the rumour, his rage pushed him beyond caring that he might be hurt or get into trouble because Mrs. Dubose had bad-mouthed Atticus, and Jem just couldn’t take it. Scout is growing up through the novel. Atticus educating her is a great part of what she recounts. Scout shows courage by maturing because maturing involves being brave, having your own opinions and stand up for yourself. When Atticus told Scout to stop fighting the people that mock her Scout had to be brave enough to ignore the harsh remarks and put herself above them. The courage to change is very important, because not everybody is able to do it, and of course changing a habit or something like that can change your life radically.
“When I committed myself to a policy of cowardice. Word got around that Scout Finch wouldn’t fight anymore, her daddy wouldn’t let her.” That was an act of great courage because Scout used to fight a lot, but because she had promised her father that she would stop fighting, she could not fight anymore. Same as Jem, Scout doesn’t want to disappoint her father. So she makes a change showing bravery. One person that Atticus admired for having real courage is Mrs. Dubose. Mrs. Dubose is courageous because she recognizes she has a flaw and that she has to help fix it to make it go away. She is addicted to Morphine and makes a goal to die free from her weakness. She goes through a withdrawal period that is difficult to survive. “Her head moved slowly from side to side. From time to time she would open her mouth wide, and I could see her tongue undulate faintly. Cords of saliva would collect on her lips; she would draw them in, then open her mouth again. Her mouth seemed to have a private existence of its own.”
She finishes her goal before she dies, although she dies almost right after she becomes free. It takes a great amount of self-confidence to be able to recognize that one has a flaw and even more to do something about it. After Jem ruins her Camellias, Atticus send Jem to read to her and he says, “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”. This showed how much Atticus respected Mrs. Dubose for trying to overcome her addiction. He also called her “the bravest person I ever knew”. Courage is also shown within the community. When there is a fire at Miss Maudie’s house, Harper Lee says that “The men of Maycomb, in all degrees of dress and undress, took furniture from Miss Maudie’s house to a yard across the street”. This shows that the people that came to help, came straight away. If the men would have dressed first, then they would have thought about whether to help or not, but they came straight from their beds to help.
The courage, to tell the truth, is illustrated in the courtroom by Tom Robinson. Tom is so honest he makes an important mistake by telling them that he felt sorry for her. He says, “I felt right sorry for her, she seemed to try more’n the rest of ’em.” The mistake he makes is that he declares feeling sorry for a white woman, which is not normal at the time. This is how Tom’s courage stands out in the courtroom. Boo’s most courageous act was when he saved Jem and Scout’s lives when Bob Ewell attacked them. When Boo saw that “his children needed him,” his courage overrode the town’s prejudice and he risked his own life to save Jem and Scout’s lives. Boo Radley is a person away from society, and the people of Maycomb often say things about him similar to the critics of the black community. It takes great courage for him to come out of his house and of course even more to save Scout’s life. After he saves her life, he is scared, still, he doesn’t run away once he knows she is safe.
“When I pointed to him his palms slipped slightly, leaving greasy sweat streaks on the wall, and he hooked his thumbs in his belt. A strange spasm shook him as if he heard fingernails scrape a slate, but as I gazed at him in wonder the tension slowly drained from his face. His lips parted into a timid smile, and our neighbour’s image blurred with my sudden tears. ‘Hey, Boo,’ I said.” He is courageous when he is needed, although he does not like being around other people in society. In chapter 30, Boo was awarded by Heck Tate at the end of the novel: Everyone in the house knew that it was Boo who actually killed Bob Ewell, but it was Heck Tate that said Boo was innocent. He did this because he knew what Mr. Ewell did was wrong. This was his way of thanking Boo for saving Atticus’ children: He let injustice occur.
Although he had to lie to protect Boo Radley, he knew that keeping his role in Bob Ewell’s death a secret was the right thing to do. To conclude, Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird shows how courage can be shown in different ways. It takes a great deal of courage to tell the truth instead of denying it. Also, to be in minority and remain there, because of your beliefs or other reason, is a courageous act. And not to forget, change is an act of courage of which many people are afraid. Courage is doing what you are afraid of, and in the end, the kind of courage that gets you from one moment to another is the courage that matters. Many people showed courage in this book, but ultimately it is Atticus that teaches us that, “Courage is knowing you’re licked from the start, but starting anyway.”