Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ extensively explores the theme of courage, bestowed upon certain characters in the novel to counter the racially biased attitudes of society during the 1930’s. Lee preaches, through the use of these characters, that courage is an imperative quality to possess in order to combat the ignorant and intolerant attitudes of others. Atticus demonstrates the fearless and courageous traits of a hero, although this willingness to rebel eventuates in social ostracization. As Jem and Scout grow up, they also gain the courage to not only empathise with Maycomb’s outsiders, but also to take a stand despite the hatred they know will transpire among society.
Lee emphasises the need for courage in the face of prejudice through the character of Atticus and his decision to defend Tom Robinson. Maycomb, a racially segregated and and biased society, shun the black community, irrespective of their intentions or appeal to common good. In order to bring about change to these ignorant attitudes, Atticus decided to stand up for Tom. He knew he was “licked before he begun” although he “began anyway and saw it through to the end”. If Atticus did not make this decision, he would see himself as less of a man and believed that he “couldn’t tell [Scout] or Jem not to do something again”. Atticus took it upon himself to combat the intolerant attitudes of society, despite being called a “nigger lover”, he persevered and came out the other side with a positive result. Lee accentuates the point that courage is a vital quality to have to combat prejudice through the character of Atticus.
As Jem and Scout learn more about the ‘real world’ of Maycomb, they develop the courage to step away from situations that would otherwise involve violence or prejudice. Both children are initially depicted as young and innocent, however they undergo a steep learning curve, especially Jem, after the Tom Robinson trial. Atticus attempted to explain to Scout the reasoning behind his decision to defend Tom and said that he had “promised [Scout] that he would wear her out if he ever heard of her fighting” in an attempt to defend his name. Scout later walked away from her first ever fight, displaying the courage that Atticus instilled in her and the path to maturity that is ever present throughout the text. Jem’s newly developed maturity and courage is shown to the reader when conversing with Scout.
When talking about a bug, Scout asks Jem, “why couldn’t I mash him?” He responded by saying “Because they don’t bother you.” Evidently, the Tom Robinson case has affected Jem personally as he draws links between the insect and Tom as they both posses innocence and are easily suppressed by a ‘man with a gun’. Both Jem and Scout are not primarily known for their courageous action, but rather for their courageous inaction. Lee demonstrates that it is not only heroic acts that deserve the title of ‘courageous’, but it is also one’s ability to empathise with the situation and step away from the violence and hatred that warrants that title.
Lee showcases the need for courage in the face of ignorant and intolerant attitudes by introducing and outsider into the world of Maycomb. Miss Caroline, a teacher new to Maycomb was introduced to Walter Cunningham on the first day of school. She offered to pay for Walter’s lunch however he refused to take the offer and Miss Caroline was giving him a hard time about it. Scout “rose from her seat on Walter’s behalf” and said, “Miss Caroline, he’s a Cunningham…you’re shamin’ him.” The teacher dismissed what Scout had said and punished her for it, exemplifying the ignorant attitude she possesses. She was told to teach by the Dewey system and had full confidence in it, although she was not told to learn about the students and the community beforehand. The courage shown from Scout in this situation was very courageous as she put her own welfare before Walter’s.
Miss Caroline was introduced by Lee to accentuate the segregation between social classes and how dangerous it can be to the intolerant. Lee shows that to combat prejudice in the society of Maycomb, courage is an essential trait to have.
Lee demonstrates the need for courage in order to combat intolerance and ignorance through the use of certain characters against the backdrop of such a racist society during the 1930’s. Atticus is shown to be a hero by standing up for Tom Robinson in court dispite the social pressures bestowed upon him. Jem and Scout also contribute to this theme of courage by following in their father’s footsteps. Through their path to maturity, they come to realise that courage is not just performing heroic actions, but that the ability to empathise with someone dispite social pressures is just as courageous.