How does characterization of Atticus in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird help the reader understand prejudice?
Through the character Atticus in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, the reader learns to see that one can escape prejudiced thinking by learning to view things from others' perspectives.
As early as Chapter 3 of the novel, Atticus gives his famous speech to Scout about seeing things from others' points of view. In this chapter, Scout complains about getting into trouble on her first day of school, and Atticus explains that both she and Miss Caroline had learned valuable lessons that day. Miss Caroline had learned valuable information about Maycomb's people, whereas Scout was on the brink of learning how to see things from another person's point of view. Atticus explains that if Scout and Walter had seen things from Miss Caroline's point of view, they would have understood that Miss Caroline was just trying to be kind, not insult the pride of the Cunninghams. Atticus's speech to Scout on the lessons she learned that day includes a lesson that echoes all throughout the book:
[I]f you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view-- ... --until you climb into his skin and walk around in it. (Ch. 3)
Atticus's ability to see from another person's point of view helps Atticus escape common prejudices and eventually helps Scout as well. For example, Atticus does not share the town's prejudiced feelings towards African Americans, which allows him to see Tom Robinson's innocence and treat him with compassion by putting his all into defending Robinson during his trial. Atticus's viewpoint also allows him to treat Calpurnia like a member of the family, despite his sister's own prejudices and protestations. Furthermore, Atticus's viewpoint allows him to see Mrs. Dubose, despite her own prejudices, as a "great lady" and the "bravest person [he] ever knew," whereas the rest of the neighborhood, especially the neighborhood children, were only able to see her as a frightening cantankerous old woman (Ch. 11).
Hence, all in all, readers learn from Atticus that seeing from the perspectives of others allows us to escape prejudiced thinking because it allows us to view humanity with caring, compassionate, open minds and hearts.