How Does Atticus Show Courage

How does Atticus show courage in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As a man of integrity, Atticus Finch possesses both a brave heart and a courageous soul.

It is in chapter 11 of To Kill a Mockingbird that Atticus defines courage for his son: 

"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do." (Ch.11)

Atticus's words point to the underlying virtue of his act of accepting the assignment as defense attorney for Tom Robinson. In chapter 9, for instance, Atticus confides in his brother, Jack, that his ethics demand he take the Tom Robinson case even though there is danger in his doing so:

"do you think I could face my children otherwise? You know what's going to happen as well as I do, Jack, and I hope and pray I can get Jem and Scout through it without bitterness, and most of all, without catching Maycomb's usual disease." (Ch.9)

Acting as the defense attorney for Tom Robinson is by far the most courageous of his acts because the repercussions of this commitment have a dangerous impact on Atticus's personal life and the life of his family. Then, even when he fears that Jem is the one who killed Bob Ewell, Atticus refuses to lie to protect Jem from the consequences.  

Truly, Atticus Finch is a courageous man. He is brave enough to practice and live according to the principles in which he believes, and he insists that his children also adhere to his ethical standards—no matter the risk or cost. From the early chapters when Atticus counsels little Scout to have the courage to "climb into the skin" of others and Jem to be kind to Mrs. Dubose to the final chapter when he is prepared for Jem to take responsibility for Bob Ewell's death, Atticus demonstrates true courage.

price7781 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Even though Atticus shows courage throughout the novel, there are three main scenes that really show what kind of man he is.  The first is when he decides to defend Tom Robinson for the rape of Mayella Ewell.  Defending a black man is a risky thing to do not only because of the prejudice and racism of the people of Maycomb, but also because of Atticus's stature in the town.  Atticus is risking his career and family name by defending Tom.  He is courageous in the fact that justice is more important than any personal harm that could come about from defending him.  Another episode when Atticus shows courage is when he sits outside the jail protecting Tom the night Tom is arrested for the rape.  A mob comes to the jail in hopes of lynching Tom, and Atticus, with the help of Scout, thwarts the attempt by the mob.  He calmly and logically talks to the mob even though he, too, is in danger.  Scout recognizes someone in the mob and points him out thus reducing him to an individual rather that a member of an unlawful group.  The third main episode that shows Atticus's courage is when he shoots the rabid dog.  A rabid dog wanders into town and is a danger to the citizens.  Atticus, who was considered a good shot, kills the dog before it can do any harm.  Many think that the rabid dog is a symbol of racism, and is related to Atticus's defense of Tom Robinson in that he hopes to overcome the racism in Maycomb by showing Tom's innocence.

Other examples:  

  • Atticus defends Boo Radley to the sheriff after Boo kills Bob Ewell.
  • Atticus goes to Tom Robinson's house to tell Tom's family that Tom has been killed.
  • Throughout the novel, Atticus's values and beliefs don't waver.  
  • Atticus is courageous as a single father raising two children.
Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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