How does Atticus view human nature in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird? Does he think people are fundamentally good or fundamentally bad? What evidence from the book, especially Chapters 28 and...

How does Atticus view human nature in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird? Does he think people are fundamentally good or fundamentally bad? What evidence from the book, especially Chapters 28 and 29, supports your interpretation of Atticus’s view of human nature? Does Heck Tate agree or disagree? Whose view is closest to yours?

Expert Answers
Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus most definitely holds the belief that people are fundamentally good. One of the clearest moments in which he asserts his belief is the morning after facing the lynch mob. Scout feels confused by the reality that Mr. Walter Cunningham might have attacked Atticus to get what he wanted--to see Tom Robinson lynched--since she had believed Mr. Cunningham to be a friend of the Finches. In his reply to Scout's question, "I thought Mr. Cunningham was a friend of ours," Atticus reveals his belief in the fundamental goodness of mankind:

Mr. Cunningham's basically a good man ... he just has his blind spots along with the rest of us. (Ch. 16)

Later, after the children are attacked by Bob Ewell, Atticus further displays his belief in the fundamental goodness of mankind by being unable to believe that anyone could willingly attempt to take the lives of innocent children for the sake of revenge. When Sheriff Tate points out that Scout's ham costume helped save her life, Atticus's response is to say the only reason Ewell could have willingly taken Scout's life is if "he was out of his mind" (Ch. 29). In other words, in Atticus's view, no sane person would willingly take the life of a child because a sane person can only be fundamentally good.

Sheriff Tate blatantly contradicts Atticus. Tate asserts that Ewell was "mean as hell," but not insane (Ch. 29). He further asserts, having been in law enforcement for so long, he has become well aware that there are some men on this earth who are simply evil, as he explains in the following:

Mr. Finch, there's just some kind of men you have to shoot before you can say hidy to 'em. Even then, they ain't worth the bullet it takes to shoot 'em. Ewell 'as one of 'em. (Ch. 29)

Atticus's view of mankind certainly is the more forgiving view. However, in light of the fact that men like Ewell certainly do exist, we have to accept that there truly are some men in this world who are fundamentally more evil than good.

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Throughout the novel, Atticus has a positive, forgiving view of human nature. He believes that people are inherently good, which explains his tolerant, sympathetic, and accepting demeanor. There are various scenes throughout the novel that demonstrate Atticus's positive view of human nature. Atticus befriends the racist Mrs. Dubose, defends Walter Cunningham's actions, and gives Bob Ewell the benefit of the doubt after Bob spits in his face. In chapter 29, Heck Tate indicates that Bob Ewell intended to murder Scout after examining the knife marks to her costume. Atticus responds by saying,

"He was out of his mind...I can’t conceive of a man who’d—" (Lee, 273).

Atticus's comments are significant and reveal his perception of human nature. Atticus cannot fathom that a person could be evil enough to attempt to murder an innocent child. Bob Ewell's level of malevolence confounds Atticus's optimistic view of human nature to the point that he believes that Bob was "out of his mind." However, Sheriff Tate disagrees with Atticus's assessment that Bob Ewell was insane by saying,

"Mr. Finch, there’s just some kind of men you have to shoot before you can say hidy to ‘em. Even then, they ain’t worth the bullet it takes to shoot ’em. Ewell ‘as one of ’em" (Lee, 273).

Heck Tate's view of human nature is much less optimistic than Atticus's view. Tate believes that some people are inherently evil, and he thinks they should not be given the opportunity to interact in society.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question