In To Kill a Mockingbird, how does Scout become more aware and empathetic because of significant actions taken by Atticus and Jem? 

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

With To Kill a Mockingbird's being a bildungsroman, there are many chapters devoted to the maturation of both Scout and Jem. Certainly, significant actions of Atticus and Jem evoke empathy on Scout's part, as well as raising her social and moral awareness.  

  • When Atticus, whom Scout considers "really old," shoots the rabid dog in the street, his daughter views him in a new light, understanding that he simply does not like to use a firearm unless absolutely necessary.
  • After the night on which Jem sneaks up to the Radley's window and Boo Radley repairs his pants torn on the fence as Jem has fled, Scout realizes the importance of respecting the Radley's privacy, a point made earlier by Atticus as he has scolded the children about bothering Boo.
  • As a result of his destroying the blooms of Mrs. Dubose's camellias after her insulting remarks about his father, Atticus demands that Jem read to her for a period of time; naturally, Scout accompanies him to Mrs. Dubose's house and listens and watches as Jem reads. Consequently, Jem and Scout learn that Mrs. Dubose is very ill and has become a morphine addict from taking this drug for her excruciating pain.  When she dies, she leaves a box filled with camellias for Jem; Atticus explains that her gift is a peace offering to Jem. Further, he points out to the children that Mrs. Dubose has had the courage to withdraw from the morphine so that she could die with dignity. He tells the children,

"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do."

  • Atticus's defense of Calpurnia to his sister Alexandra demonstrates the importance of loyalty to Scout as he tells his sister, "She's a faithful member of the family." Thus, Scout understands that color makes no difference to Atticus; instead, he values what is inside a person.
  • Of course, the time before and during the trial of Tom Robinson affords Scout several lessons. Certainly, she understands what integrity her father possesses as he is willing to risk his life in order to uphold justice. In one instance, Atticus places himself before the jailhouse door and faces the angry mob who want to take Tom and hang him. Following her father's advice about courage and the rights of every individual, Scout intervenes by addressing Mr. Cunningham. Because he does have a moral conscience, Mr. Cunningham recalls the respect and favors afforded him by Atticus, so he calls everyone off and gets them to depart. In another instance, Atticus has the bravery to face the men in his front yard.
  • With valor, Atticus earnestly tries to defend Tom against the "private court of men's hearts." Repeatedly, Scout witnesses Atticus's fairness to the Ewells while he endeavors to defend Robinson. Even when Bob Ewell spits in his face, Atticus explains to the children why the man has committed such an action.
  • After the death of the vindictive Ewell, Sheriff Tate convinces Atticus that it was Boo Radley who stabbed Ewell, and they agree to protect Boo by saying that Ewell fell on his own knife. From these actions, Scout learns that it would do Boo harm to be arrested and dragged through a trial and serve no justice; such actions would only "kill a mockingbird." Clearly, Scout understands that Atticus's resolve to defend Boo from harm is the most important factor.





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To Kill a Mockingbird

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