In To Kill a Mockingbird, describe how Atticus helps the children in coping with the hostility they face.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

An man of sterling character, Atticus Finch possesses no pettiness or cruelty.  Therefore, he teaches his children with example and through reasoning. Whenever, an incident occurs in which the chirdren need disciplining or they misunderstand the situation in which they are, Atticus is quick to clarify things for them as he carefully and objectively explains all to his children, utilizing his "golden rule" of climbing into "the other's skin" and "walk[ing] around it." Here are some examples:

  • After Atticus is assigned the defense of Tom Robinson and his intentions to do his best at this defense become known, racial slurs are slung at him.  In Chapter 9 when Scout comes home and asks Atticus if he defends n----s, Atticus first tells her not to use that noun because it is "common," or low-class and vulgar. Then, speaking to Scout as though she were an adult, Atticus explains that he feels it is his duty and it would be hypocritical of him as an attorney to not defend Tom Robinson. He also clarifies for Scout that actions often extend beyond the moment :

"If I didn't, I couldn't hold my head up in town, I couldn't represent this county in the legislature."

  • Further in the narrative, Scout engages in a fight with her cousin Francis, who also calls Atticus a racial slur. While her Uncle Jack has promised not to report Scout's having hit Francis, the intuitive Atticus allows his child to overhear his discussion about defending Tom with his brother Jack as he asks,

" you think I could face my children otherwise?....I hope and pray I can get Jem and scout through it without bitterness, and most of all, without [their] catching Maycomb's usual disease."

  • Ever the gentleman, in Chapter 11 Atticus ignores the pejorative comments of Mrs. Dubose and speaks as kindly as ever to her, tipping his hat to her on the walk home and telling her she looks "like a picture." And, when Jem retaliates against her for her cruel words about his father, Atticus repays her with charity as he assigns Jem to read to her every day.  When Scout yet pursues the topic of a Negroe-lover, Atticus charitably responds,

"I certainly am.  I do my best to love everybody...don't let Mrs. Dubose get you down.  She has enough troubles of her own."

  • In order to demonstrate his love for all, as well as to afford them the occasion of seeing first-hand how the black community lives, Atticus allows Calpurnia to take the children to church with her on a Sunday.
  • In Chapter 15 when Atticus suspects a mob will come to take Tom from the jail, he exhibits uncommon valor and sits before the door at the jail, physically demonstrating to his children that he will defend calmly what he believes. On the walk home, Atticus rubs Jem's hair, proud that his son has come to his defense and, thus reinforcing in Jem that integrity is paramount.
  • Certainly, during the trial Atticus acts professionally, treating each witness with equal respect.
  • When Bob Ewell spits in Atticus's face after the trial in retaliation for what he feels is Atticus's efforts to humiliate him, Atticus turns the figurative cheek and demonstrates that one should not stoop to another's level. 

Indubitably, Atticus stands as a model of justice for the children and community alike.  And, it is "fairness" that children both seek and understand.  It is his consistent behavior and moral example that helps the children cope with their individual problems and the hostility of the community during Tom Robinson's trial and afterwards.


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To Kill a Mockingbird

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