In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus makes two errors of judgement:
- trusting the Old Sarum mob not to try to lynch Tom (Chapter 15)
- trusting Bob Ewell not to carry out his threats of revenge (Chapter 23)
What do these errors tell us about Atticus?
Both of these errors suggest that Atticus sees individuals in a positive light and is rather naive when it comes to understanding people's true intentions. Atticus is a tolerant man who is continually giving people the benefit of the doubt throughout the novel. Atticus does not believe that Walter Cunningham and the Old Sarum bunch have enough hate in their hearts to attempt to lynch Tom Robinson. He also naively believes that Bob Ewell will not carry out his threats and underestimates Bob's hateful nature. Atticus' errors in judgment illuminate his pure, morally upright personality. Atticus perceives his community members as good people and does not think they are capable of engaging in such heinous acts of violence. He cannot comprehend how or why individuals would seek to kill other people. Atticus' errors also suggest that he downplays the extent of racial prejudice in the community of Maycomb. He does not think that Tom Robinson's life is at risk while he is awaiting trial because Atticus believes that the community of Maycomb does not feel threatened by a possible victory in the Robinson case. Overall, Atticus' errors in judgment enhance his morally upright personality and portray his naive belief that the prejudiced citizens of Maycomb do not feel threatened.
Both these errors of judgement show that Atticus is generally willing - perhaps too willing - to believe the best rather than the worst about other people. He comes across as a little naive, perhaps, and shows himself unaware of how some people will readily resort to violence in order to achieve their ends.
Although compassionate and full of understanding, Atticus does misjudge other people at times, like Bob Ewell. Ewell may have got the verdict he wanted at Tom Robinson's trial, but his social and intellectual inferiority was also put on show.
I destroyed his last shred of credibility at that trial, if he had any to begin with. (Chapter 23)
There is a touch of complacency here on Atticus's part; he understands Ewell's sense of humiliation but completely underestimates the lengths to which Ewell will go to get his own back.