How does Atticus seek to instill consciences in his children in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Atticus teaches his children to treat people with empathy and respect.

Atticus tries to teach his children to treat people with dignity and respect. He leads by example. Atticus is respectful of everyone, regardless of the person’s age, race, or class. He also takes his job as a lawyer seriously, believing in defending his client to the best of his ability. 

When Scout asks Atticus why he is defending Tom Robinson even though it is unpopular with many people in Maycomb, he explains that he has to do the right thing: 

“For a number of reasons,” said Atticus. “The main one is, if I didn’t I couldn’t hold up my head in town, I couldn’t represent this county in the legislature, I couldn’t even tell you or Jem not to do something again” (Chapter 9).

As a father, Atticus tries to be there for his kids. He works a lot, and often lets his kids run around loose. That was pretty common in that time period. Atticus tries to make sure Jem and Scout learn not to prey on the weak. 

Atticus said to Jem one day, “I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” (Chapter 10).

Atticus tells his children that, even if something is difficult, you should do it if you believe it is right. He tries to teach his children moral courage. When Mrs. Dubose is fighting her addiction, Atticus sends Scout and Jem to read to her. He tells them later that she died of withdrawals, and explains he wanted them to go there so they could learn what “real courage” looks like. Atticus thinks it means you keep fighting even if you don’t think you will win. 

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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