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Jem and Scout are kids, and they have a rather undeveloped persepective on what courage is. We know (in ch. 10) they believe their dad is an old man and "can't do anything"; and they wish he had a really cool and important job--
"Our father didn't do anything. He worked in an office, not in a drugstore. Atticus did not drive a dump-truck for the county, he was not the sheriff, he not farm, work in a garage, or do anything that could possibly arouse the admiration of anyone."
They're most impressed with him when they find out he's an expert shot with a rifle. Knowing that, their unrealistic view of courage has to develop by experiences with the people they come in contact during the course of the novel. Here are a few:
- Mrs. Henry Lafayette DuBose, who kicks a morphine addiction at the end of her life simply because she wanted to prove to herself that she could.
- Miss Maudie, who stands up to the bullying of the "foot-washing Baptists" and town gossips.
- Boo Radley, who risks his life for them.
- Tom Robinson, who shows compassion for Mayella despite the potential risk to him.
- Helen Robinson, who walks to work with her head held high, even though Bob Ewell is a menacing presence as she does so.
- Dolphus Raymond, who lives the life he chooses, regardless of the town's disapproval.
- Mr. Underwood, who speaks his mind in an editorial about the prejudice in Maycomb and risks losing his business.
- Dill, who crosses the country on his own.
- Judge Taylor, who does his best to give Tom the fairest trial he can in the circumstances he's in.
- Atticus, who is the same in his house as he is on the street, who believes in a black man's innocence and tries to free him, who sits outside a jail cell to ensure his client's safety...and on it goes.
There are plenty more, as you know once you start thinking about examples like these. The kids' view of courage is developed and "fleshed out" as they encounter the characters in their world during the two years of this story.
One of the most important lessons in real courage in this novel concerns Mrs. Dubose. If you remember, she was the grouchy lady that lived near the Finch children. She was always griping at Jem and Scout when they walked by her house. She called Scout "you ugly girl." She criticized the children for having a father "that defended niggers." As a result of this last insult, Jem ruined her flowers. Atticus made Jem read to Mrs. Dubose as payment for having ruined her flowers. It wasn't until after Mrs. Dubose died that Atticus shared with Jem that she had been sick and dying and trying to kick the morphine habit. Even though morphine relieved her pain, she did not want to die addicted to it and Jem's reading helped her cope with her pain. Atticus tells Jem that this is true courage.
The children also observe that their father has true courage. The learn that he is the only one in the town that has the guts to "defend niggers." Miss Maudie informs them that there is a reason Atticus was appointed to defend Tom Robinson -- that he was chosen because he was a man of integrity, that had courage, and the judge could trust Atticus to do the best job in spite of overwhelming circumstances. That is why the Blacks in the audience, during the trial, tell Scout, "Stand up, Miss Jean Louise. Your Daddy is passing."
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