Discuss the ideas developed by Lee Harper in To Kill a Mockingbird about the significance of idealism and truth in an individual’s life.
“In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee shows how the impact of truth and idealism can be more powerful than racism and fear in one’s life.” This novel is timeless. The author captures life in a small Southern town in the 1930s. Through her characters, she helps us understand more about ourselves: what we do and why we do it. The main character that impacts us all is Atticus Finch. He is an outsider in this novel as he does not participate in the same racial biases that much of the town does. He is dedicated to his own sense of justice, fairness and equality. This idealism is different than most citizens of Maycomb. Atticus Finch tries to live a model life, unaffected by the prejudices of others. Atticus cannot support a principle that he knows to be unjust and immoral. He quotes “Before I can live with other folks, I’ve got to live with myself.” He defends Tom Robinson even though he knows that, as far as the community is concerned, Tom is guilty even though they have not heard the true facts of the case. When Atticus’s brother Jack suggests Atticus find a way out of taking the case for Tom Robinson, the principled Atticus replies, “But do you think I could face my children otherwise?”
Further, he explains that, in his idealism, he does not want his children to grow up with “Maycomb’s usual disease.” Atticus knows the real type of the men sitting on the jury and he knows he will lose, but he also knows that he has done the right thing in defending Tom. He didn’t just take the case and go through the motions; he fought as well as he could, using his moral strength to lead him. Atticus remains ever the gentleman as he interrogates Bob and Mayella despite their false and lying statements. Bravely, Atticus does not compromise his duty and integrity as he defends Tom against the Old Sarum Bunch who approach the jailhouse so that they can grab Tom and kill him. Likewise, he does not back down when Heck Tate and others ask him to petition to have the trial moved to another venue. Even though he doesn’t want to disappoint his son and ruin his expectations, he knows it’s important for his children to truly understand. So he allows them to watch the verdict being read. Atticus knows the verdict will be painful but sees this as important so that his children will learn.
Despite the farce of justice that the trial becomes, Atticus retains some of his idealism as he tells his unhappy son that “there is a shadow of a beginning” as the jury took a few hours before the verdict was reached. When Scout picks up the “Nword” which was a word used at this time in 1930, Atticus tells her not to say it as it is “common,” or something only vulgar people say. Further, he explains to his daughter that every lawyer has to take on at least one case in his lifetime that has a personal affect upon him. But, he urges Scout to “try fighting with your head for a change….” Atticus’s brother Jack punishes Scout without first hearing what her cousin Francis has said to precipitate her actions, Atticus advises Jack to be sure to hear both sides first. His respect for life extends even to animals as Atticus instructs his children on the use of their present of air rifles.
He tells them not to shoot mockingbirds because they do no harm, only singing their hearts out, unlike blue jays that eat other birds’ eggs. Understand right and wrong, The people of Maycomb County may have “majority rule” but that will never change the truth. Having a majority say does not make something true. Atticus has revealed the dangers of operating according to an unfair system, regardless of how many people support it. He crossed the line in Maycomb that nobody else has dared to cross before. This is the stuff that history is made of. Atticus states “The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”
Overall, the town was somewhat quiet after the trial. They knew that Bob Ewell was guilty, and they knew that racism had kept them from making the right decision. In the end when Atticus is convinced that Jem has killed their assailant Bob Ewell, as he and Scout return from the school play, Atticus will not compromise his principles, telling Sheriff Tate, “If they hear of me saying downtown something different happened—Heck, I won’t have them anymore. I can’t live one way in town and another way in my home. As readers, believing in Atticus and his views opens our eyes.
His actions show us that truth and strong ideals are a sacrifice worth making for all people. Idealism in life is the characteristic of those who value truth and right, goodness and beauty as their standards. Sometimes we can be wonderful; sometimes we can be terrible–and there are reasons behind our behavior. By being honest and having good ideals we become better people. We should not be bound or scared by others in forming our own conclusions.