Obviously a bildungsroman, Harper Lee's fictional depiction of a small Southern community enmeshed in its class systems and biases provides the setting for the exemplary characters of Atticus Finch, Calpurnia, Miss Maudie, and Tom Robinson to instruct both Jem and Scout, but also readers.
- Atticus Finch
Surely an anachronism in the Deep South of the 1930s, Atticus Finch is so ultra-liberal that he allows his children to call him by his first name--something to this day that is not heard of in the South, where many children respond "Yes, ma'am" and "Yes, sir" to even their parents. However, Atticus is very loving and instructs his children well in respecting others, regardless of color or socio-economic position. His maxim of learning to understand others by "climb[ing] into their skin and walk[ing] around in it" is a just one, and the children learn what this means as they have experiences with Mrs. Dupree, Calpurnia at her church, Mr. Dolphus Raymond, and the witnesses in the trial of Tom Robinson. and others.
Atticus acts as a wonderful role model, also because he is the same person with everyone. He is polite always to Mrs. Dupree despite her insults, and he defends Tom Robinson regardless of the controversy it creates because he does not want his children to contract "Maycomb's usual disease." He even forgives Bob Ewell his hateful act of spitting tobacco juice in his face, telling his children that they must "stand in Bob Ewell's shoes a minute" and understand that Atticus destroyed "his last shred of credibility at that trial. ...The man had to have some kind of comeback." And, after Boo Radley comes to the rescue of Jem and Scout, Atticus thanks him deeply.
- Miss Maudie
More of a commentator upon the acts of others, Miss Maudie, nevertheless, provides exemplary behavior to the children as she does not complain about her losses after her house burns down. She always lends her ears and heart to the Finch children, and she encourages them to not harass Boo Radley because he lives in a "sad house." Yet, Miss Maudie is not without fire as she battles religious hypocrisy in the fundamentalists who pass her house, as well as reining in Mrs. Merriweather at the Missionary Tea for her racial hypocrisy as she speaks so kindly of the missionary in Africa, yet harshly criticizes Atticus for defending Tom Robinson and her maid for having the nerve to complain in her house.
Largely responsible for raising Jem and Scout, Calpurnia loves the Finch children and teaches them that everyone, even Walter Cunningham, has feelings and should be treated with respect. When Calpurnia takes the children with her to church, she defends them against a hostile member of the congregation. Also, while the children are at church with her, they realize that Calpurnia lives in two different worlds, but she is fair to all.
- Tom Robinson
Despite the Jim Crow Laws that have prohibited him from many things. Tom is most charitable and kind in his heart. He does not understand the cruelty of men. For, when he is on the witness stand and explains that he helped Mayella Ewell because he felt sorry for her, he only realizes that he has harmed himself when the prosecutor lunges at his words of being "sorry for her" because a Negro is not allowed in the South to ever feel sorry for a white woman, no matter her condition.