Except for Atticus Finch's defense of Tom Robinson in court, is there any other moral battle where a character shows courage in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee?  How can I support the...

Except for Atticus Finch's defense of Tom Robinson in court, is there any other moral battle where a character shows courage in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee? 

How can I support the argument that the one who struggles in a moral and spiritual battle displays greater courage? Does Mrs. Dubose engage in a moral or spiritual battle?

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Another moral battle occurs as Atticus Finch wrestles with his conscience after Jem and Scout are attacked by Bob Ewell, and Ewell is killed.

In Chapter 29 of To Kill a Mockingbird, Sheriff Tate informs Atticus that he has found Bob Ewell lying on the ground with "a kitchen knife stuck up under his ribs." When he hears these words, Atticus is so stunned that his "instinctive courtesy" fails him as he remains seated when Aunt Alexandra stands and reaches for the mantelpiece to steady herself. Atticus asks almost distractedly, "Are you sure?" and Mr. Tate replies, "He's dead all right."

"I didn't mean that." Atticus seemed to be talking in his sleep. His age was beginning to show, his one sign of inner turmoil: the strong line of his jaw melted a little, one became aware of telltale creases forming under his ears.... (Ch. 29)

As Scout recounts the sequence of events that have occurred, Atticus remarks that Ewell was "out of his mind," but the sheriff politely contradicts him, stating that Ewell had "enough liquor in him to make him brave enough to kill children." As Scout continues her narration, she recounts that after it was all over, she heard someone staggering and panting and coughing. She adds that she looked for Jem on the ground, thinking Atticus had come to help them and was "wore out" in the struggle. Then she points to Arthur Radley who stands in the corner as the man who has helped her and Jem.

After the doctor arrives to examine Jem, Atticus invites everyone out to the front porch. He tells Sheriff Tate that the case will come before the county court and Jem is not quite thirteen. Obviously, Atticus believes that Jem has killed Ewell; however, Mr. Tate contradicts this idea. It is at this point that Atticus begins to wrestle with a moral issue. When he hears Sheriff Tate say that Jem did not kill Ewell, Atticus feels that the sheriff is protecting Jem. He tells Mr. Tate, 

"Heck, it's mighty kind of you and I know you're doing it from that good heart of yours, but don't start anything like that." (Ch. 29)

Sheriff Tate assures Atticus that no one will "hush up" anything. Scout notes that "a curious contest" begins to develop between the two men. Atticus ponders momentarily; then he thanks Mr. Tate, but tells the sheriff that he does not want Jem starting life with something hanging over his head. Tate contradicts Atticus: "Mr. Finch...Bob Ewell fell on his knife. He killed himself."

Atticus is faced with a moral dilemma because he still believes that Jem is responsible for Bob Ewell's death. So he tells Mr. Tate,

"If this thing's hushed up it'll be a simple denial to Jem of the way I've tried to raise him....Before Jem looks at anyone else, he looks at me, and I've tried to live so I can look squarely back at him...if I connived at something like this, frankly I couldn't meet his eye, and the day I can't do that I'll know I've lost him." (Ch. 29)

Atticus feels that he must act on what is morally right. If he does not, he tells Tate his son will never trust him or anybody else. He tells the sheriff, "I can't live one way in town and another way in my home." 

Finally, Sheriff Tate convinces Atticus that Jem did not kill Bob Ewell. Nevertheless, the moral dilemma that Atticus has faced has been real because he has been convinced that Jem has stabbed Ewell. Then, when Tate clarifies who has done the stabbing, Atticus is presented with a continuation of his moral challenge since Boo Radley has defended the children and driven Ewell's knife into his ribs. "Let the dead bury the dead," urges Sheriff Tate, implying that Tom Robinson has been brought to death because of the evil Bob Ewell, and now Ewell is dead himself, so the case is closed.

Atticus sits, staring at the floor. He looks at Scout and asks her if she understands. Scout hugs him and says, "Mr. Tate was right." When Atticus asks her what she means, Scout replies, "Well, it'd be sort of like shootin' a mockingbird, wouldn't it?" After Atticus's moral battle is over with his sense of responsibility satisfied, Sheriff Tate and Atticus agree to protect Boo Radley, who has acted nobly in order to protect Atticus's children from harm. 

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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