Explain three reasons why the character B.B. Underwood in To Kill a Mockingbird posseses courage.
Braxton Bragg Underwood is one of the few minor characters in To Kill a Mockingbird who changes during the story. He was the chief editor of the Maycomb Tribune, making him an influential man throughout Maycomb. Scout observes, “He rarely gathered news. People brought it to him.”
At the time Tom Robinson is charged with raping Mayella Ewell, Mr. Underwood is racist. Atticus says at one point, “He despises Negroes. He won’t have one near him.” Underwood has adopted the common social viewpoint. He has even taken it to more of an extreme. Other white members of Maycomb society may tolerate African Americans near them if they are servants or segregated to different areas of the store or bus, but Underwood doesn’t want an African American anywhere in his vicinity, as if they are somehow disgusting or dangerous.
Nevertheless, Underwood learns that his attitudes and opinions are wrong.
His first courageous act reflecting this reformation occurs when he protects Atticus during the mob scene. Atticus knows the townspeople will come to lynch Tom Robinson, and so he stations himself outside the jailhouse door. Scout eventually unknowingly diffuses the situation, but after the crowd is gone, we discover Underwood has been hiding across the street in an upper window, a gun cocked and ready to defend Atticus and Tom Robinson from the mob. “I had you covered all the time,” he tells Atticus. He was ready to stand against the town as well to defend a man that before he would not have wanted near him.
This is actually two brave acts in one. First, he is physically present against a mob to make sure Atticus and Tom Robinson are safe. However, he also reflects the same kind of courage Atticus has: he is standing against his friends and neighbors, risking their disrespect and even wrath. However, he chooses to stand for true justice, the kind that does not differentiate based on a person’s skin color.
After the prison guards kill Tom, Underwood uses his influence as a highly respected newspaper editor to pen a scathing editorial sure to anger the townspeople. Scout sums it up this way:
“Mr. Underwood simply figured it was a sin to kill cripples, be they standing, sitting, or escaping. He likened Tom's death to the senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters and children, and Maycomb felt he was trying to write an article poetical enough to be printed in The Montgomery Advertiser.” He did not care if he lost advertisers or money because of his opinion. He had the courage to speak the truth whether people wanted to hear it or not.