Explain what a person needs to do in order to "act responsibly" in the 1930's in Maycomb, Alabama.Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird"

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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With such people as Atticus Finch and Miss Maudie Atkinson and Calpurinia as models of tolerance and courage, it would seem that a responsible person would have respect for property and for others as well as him/herself.

The first chapter of "To Kill a Mockingbird" exemplifies in the microcosm of the school, the types of characters who are responsible and who are not.  Worst among these is Burris Ewell who comes to school filthy.  In reaction, Burris laughs rudely and says,

You ain't sendin' me home, missus.  I was on the verge of leavin'--I done done my time for this year.

When the teacher tells him to sit back down, Burris threatens, "You try and make me."

Almost as poor, but with dignity and respect is Walter Cunningham, whose father refuses to get on welfare.  Instead, they pay their debts by working for people, giving them potatoes, etc.  Yet another boy who exhibits great character is Little Chuck Little, "who does not know where his next meal was coming from, but he was a born gentleman."  In the most cavalier manner, he offers his arm to aid Miss Caroline to the front of the classroom after she has seen "cooties" in one of the children's hair.

Throughout the novel, Atticus teaches his children to respect the old neighbors despite their crankiness,etc.  When Jem cuts the flowers of Mrs. DuBois, Atticus has him read to her, allowing Jem to perceive the courage and character of Mrs. DuBois who courageously battles her addiction to morphine.  Whenever the children infringe upon the rights of others, Atticus addresses this injustice with the children.  Their taunting of Boo Radley does not last long, for he speaks to them and prohibits certain activities that they have planned against Boo.

In spite of his knowing that he will lose the case against Tom Robinson, Atticus takes the job of defender.  He even sets himself against the angry mob that wishes to pull Tom from jail.  Calpurnia allows the children to attend the trial so that they will better understand the wisdom and courage of their father, a courage they also see reflected in Miss Maudie who responds positively when her home is burned.  She says she will have a chance to rebuild, now.

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