Question about the last few lines of To Kill A MockingbirdIn the last few lines of To Kill a Mockingbird,  Scout says, "He was real nice..." and Attiucus replies, "Most people are, Scout, when you...

Question about the last few lines of To Kill A Mockingbird

In the last few lines of To Kill a Mockingbird,  Scout says, "He was real nice..." and Attiucus replies, "Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them." Do you agree that most people in the novel are nice once you see them? How is Atticus able to see the good side of people despite all he has experienced? Can you?

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Notice that Atticus tells Scout, "Most people are...."  Bob Ewell, then, can be excluded, as is, probably, Mr. Radley and, perhaps, the hypocritical Mrs. Merriweather.  For, while Atticus Finch has not become cynical as is often the case when people work and/or live with mendacious and malicious people, he is, however, realistic.  Part of his sense of being realistic about people involves his efforts to understand them by perceiving life as much as he can from their points of view--"walking around in their skin."  The most salient example of this manner of perception that Atticus has is in regard to Mrs. Dubose, who is vituperative about Atticus and insulting to the children.  But, Atticus knows what the children do not:  Mrs. Dubose is under the influence of drugs.  About Mayella Ewell, Atticus realizes that her perjury on the stand and her insulting behavior toward Atticus has been committed out of fear of her abusive father.  So, the philosophy of Atticus holds true with most of Maycomb's citizenry: Whenever a person can learn the underlying motives of others, that person can recognize some good in them. 

Add that to a dash of Atticus's apparently intrinsic optimism--which seems a necessary ingredient, especially after the verdict of Tom Robinson's trial--and his character has verisimilitude.  What is admirable about Atticus is his genuine belief in what he teaches, and for this quality he ranks as one of the memorable and admired characters in contemporary American literature. Of course, the ending of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird certainly excludes the author from the school of Naturalism and Mark Twain's school of American satire. Clearly, it is apparent that the conclusion is designed for what this novel is, a bildungsroman and an inspiration to youth. 

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ajmchugh's profile pic

ajmchugh | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted on

Atticus's ability to "see the good side of people despite all he has experienced" is a direct result of his respect for all human beings. 

Early on in the novel, Atticus tells Scout, "you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view--until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."  Essentially, Atticus believes--and tries to teach his children--that in order to really understand a person's motives, behavior, or words, one must be able to see things from that person's perspective.  Though this advice seems simple and logical, many people, including most of the citizens of Maycomb, fail to take the time to practice this exercise in tolerance.

With regard to your first question, I think that the children are ultimately able to understand that most people are good people.  They understand that Mrs. Dubose, while mean and abusive in her language, is a courageous woman; they learn that Mayella, though she accuses Tom of Rape and wrongfully puts him on trial for his life, is a sad, lonely, and abused girl; they learn that Dolphus Raymond, the town outcast, is not what many citizens of Maycomb describe him as; and perhaps most importantly, they learn that Boo Radley, their "malevolent phantom" of a neighbor, is a nice person.  (The exception to this response, I'd say, is Bob Ewell.  He doesn't show any redeeming qualities in the novel.)

More important than the specific examples listed below are is the knowledge the children gain from learning to put themselves into others' shoes in order to gain insight and perspective into the life of another person.  Essentially, Atticus strives to teach his children empathy and compassion for all others. 

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