How does Atticus Finch show courage in To Kill a Mockingbird?

Atticus Finch shows courage in To Kill a Mockingbird by mounting a strong defense of Tom Robinson in the face of the disapproval of Maycomb's white community. He has the courage to risk both himself and his children to do this, even though he knows he will lose the case. He also shows courage when he kills the rabid dog, Tim Johnson.

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Atticus Finch is an appealing character in part because he possesses tremendous courage but rarely feels the need to show it. Instead, he tries to teach his children to identify courage in other people. This approach is most obvious in his defense of Mrs. Dubose and his insistence that Jem ...

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Atticus Finch is an appealing character in part because he possesses tremendous courage but rarely feels the need to show it. Instead, he tries to teach his children to identify courage in other people. This approach is most obvious in his defense of Mrs. Dubose and his insistence that Jem behave properly toward her. Atticus also combines modesty with courage. He had not boasted about his prowess with a rifle, so his children had no idea he was a sharpshooter. He only shows this when he quietly takes his place in the street to defend the townspeople against a rabid dog.

In deciding to take the position of Tom Robinson’s defense attorney, Atticus combines courage with either naïveté or recklessness. As a firm believer in justice, he knows it is important for a prominent attorney to represent Robinson so that he can obtain the best possible defense. He either underestimates or disregards the depth and extent of his town’s racism, however, as he fails to recognize that he is jeopardizing not only his own safety but his children’s as well. Atticus also goes beyond the requirements of a defense attorney when he guards the jail against the likely attack of a lynch mob. Rather than try to muster up a large group of men to assist him, he quietly sits in a chair under a lamp outside the jail.

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As a man of integrity, Atticus Finch possesses both a brave heart and a courageous soul.

It is in chapter 11 of To Kill a Mockingbird that Atticus defines courage for his son: 

"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." (Ch.11)

Atticus's words point to the underlying virtue of his act of accepting the assignment as defense attorney for Tom Robinson. In chapter 9, for instance, Atticus confides in his brother, Jack, that his ethics demand he take the Tom Robinson case even though there is danger in his doing so:

"do you think I could face my children otherwise? You know what's going to happen as well as I do, Jack, and I hope and pray I can get Jem and Scout through it without bitterness, and most of all, without catching Maycomb's usual disease." (Ch.9)

Acting as the defense attorney for Tom Robinson is by far the most courageous of his acts because the repercussions of this commitment have a dangerous impact on Atticus's personal life and the life of his family. Then, even when he fears that Jem is the one who killed Bob Ewell, Atticus refuses to lie to protect Jem from the consequences.  

Truly, Atticus Finch is a courageous man. He is brave enough to practice and live according to the principles in which he believes, and he insists that his children also adhere to his ethical standards—no matter the risk or cost. From the early chapters when Atticus counsels little Scout to have the courage to "climb into the skin" of others and Jem to be kind to Mrs. Dubose to the final chapter when he is prepared for Jem to take responsibility for Bob Ewell's death, Atticus demonstrates true courage.

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Even though Atticus shows courage throughout the novel, there are three main scenes that really show what kind of man he is.  The first is when he decides to defend Tom Robinson for the rape of Mayella Ewell.  Defending a black man is a risky thing to do not only because of the prejudice and racism of the people of Maycomb, but also because of Atticus's stature in the town.  Atticus is risking his career and family name by defending Tom.  He is courageous in the fact that justice is more important than any personal harm that could come about from defending him.  Another episode when Atticus shows courage is when he sits outside the jail protecting Tom the night Tom is arrested for the rape.  A mob comes to the jail in hopes of lynching Tom, and Atticus, with the help of Scout, thwarts the attempt by the mob.  He calmly and logically talks to the mob even though he, too, is in danger.  Scout recognizes someone in the mob and points him out thus reducing him to an individual rather that a member of an unlawful group.  The third main episode that shows Atticus's courage is when he shoots the rabid dog.  A rabid dog wanders into town and is a danger to the citizens.  Atticus, who was considered a good shot, kills the dog before it can do any harm.  Many think that the rabid dog is a symbol of racism, and is related to Atticus's defense of Tom Robinson in that he hopes to overcome the racism in Maycomb by showing Tom's innocence.

Other examples:  

  • Atticus defends Boo Radley to the sheriff after Boo kills Bob Ewell.
  • Atticus goes to Tom Robinson's house to tell Tom's family that Tom has been killed.
  • Throughout the novel, Atticus's values and beliefs don't waver.  
  • Atticus is courageous as a single father raising two children.
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Atticus shows courage in To Kill a Mockingbird when he mounts a strong defense of Tom Robinson. This is courageous because the white community in Maycomb is hostile to the idea of a fair trial for a black man accused of raping a white woman. As far as the white people of Maycomb are concerned, an accusation of a white person against black person is the equivalent of the truth. Atticus knows his children will be criticized and attacked as well as him, but he has the courage to face that, too.

Atticus is courageous in putting his mind and heart into defending Tom Robinson when he knows from the start it is a losing cause. Atticus defines courage as standing up for what is right even when you know you can't win.

Atticus's courage is on display, too, when he kills the rabid dog, Tim Johnson. He stands up to the fear of being attacked and bitten, shooting the dog when everyone has cleared off the streets in fear. In this instance, Atticus also shows modesty: he feels no need to brag about either his skills as a sharpshooter or his bravery.

Atticus consistently shows courage in doing what is right even when it is not easy or safe to do so.

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Atticus displays both inner and outward courage. As a person of integrity, he shows inner courage when he stands by his principles even when it means other people might speak ill of him or think less of him. He is willing to endure interpersonal conflict rather than compromise what he knows is right. He displays this type of courage on several occasions. When Alexandra, his sister, suggests that her presence in the home means Atticus can let Calpurnia go, he remains loyal to her despite his sister's disapproval. When Jem destroys Mrs. Dubose's flowers, Atticus requires Jem to make amends even though Mrs. Dubose has made rude and inflammatory remarks about him. His determination to repay her unkindness with kindness shows inner strength of character; he is not intimidated by his neighbor's hateful invectives. He displays that same inner courage when he chooses to defend Tom Robinson even though it will cause most people in the community to criticize him.

One of his most dramatic displays of outward courage is when Atticus faces the rabid dog. In order to protect his children and others in the neighborhood, he shoots the dangerous animal, even though he hasn't fired a gun in years. This event foreshadows his courage when he fends off the dangerous mob that wants to pull Tom Robinson out of jail, presumably to lynch him. He doesn't back down even though they could easily overcome him physically and harm him for protecting Robinson.

Throughout the novel, Atticus displays admirable courage, combining inner strength of character with outward bravery.

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In To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus teaches his children what courage is. In chapter 10, Scout and Jem are surprised when their peaceful, non violent father is called to shoot the rabid dog in the street. Atticus shows courage by making the shot, as he must kill the dog before it can hurt anybody, and only has one shot to do so. He demonstrates courage further by not bragging about his talent, and choosing to live a peaceful life instead of often using his gun.

"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 anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do."

Atticus says this quote at the end of chapter 11, after Mrs. Dubose dies. Atticus makes Jem go to Mrs. Dubose's house and read to her every day, and it is not until afterward that Atticus explains Mrs. Dubose was battling a morphine addiction, and the reading helped her end it. Atticus explains what real courage is in order to teach his children.

Atticus demonstrates this moral courage by accepting Tom Robinson's case and truly fighting for him. Atticus is assigned the case, but people become angry when they see that Atticus does all he can to help Tom get off. According to society, Atticus should not put forth his best effort in the defense, but Atticus does what he knows is right even if it is not popular.

Atticus shows courage when his children are attacked at the end of the novel. He believes Jem has killed Mr. Ewell, but does not want Heck Tate to cover it up.

"Heck," Atticus's back was turned. "If this thing's hushed up it'll be a simple denial to Jem of the way I've tried to raise him. Sometimes I think I'm a total failure as a parent, but I'm all they've got. Before Jem looks at anyone else he looks at me, and I've tried to live so I can look squarely back at him."

Atticus shows a moral courage throughout the novel in what he says, does, and teaches to his children.

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Throughout the novel, Atticus Finch attempts to instill positive character traits and qualities in both of his children by teaching them important life lessons and matching his actions to those lessons. One of the most significant life lessons Atticus teaches his children concerns exercising real courage. Atticus is the quintessential positive role model to Jem and Scout and displays real courage several times in the novel. Atticus shows courage in chapter ten by taking Sheriff Tate's rifle, standing directly in the path of a dangerous, rabid dog, and protecting the neighborhood by killing the dog in one shot.

Atticus also demonstrates his courage in chapter fifteen by refusing to leave the Maycomb jailhouse when the Old Sarum bunch arrives to lynch Tom Robinson before the trial. Despite being unarmed and outnumbered, Atticus does not waver and refuses to leave the scene. Atticus also demonstrates courage by valiantly defending Tom Robinson in front of a racist jury and town. Despite knowing that he has no chance of winning the case, Atticus follows his conscience by defending Tom and presents a moving argument that proves Tom's innocence. Atticus's decision to defend Tom Robinson to the best of his ability is his most courageous act and shows Jem and Scout the meaning of real courage, which is

. . . when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.

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Atticus reveals his courage in several ways throughout the novel. Atticus courageously takes Sheriff Tate's rifle and shoots the rabid dog staggering down the main street of Maycomb. Atticus also courageously deals with the harsh criticism he receives from the community concerning his defense of Tom Robinson. Despite the numerous insults, Atticus stays true to himself and displays his tolerance by acting amiably towards his racist neighbors.

In chapter 15, Atticus reveals his courage by traveling to the Maycomb jailhouse at night and refusing to move out of the way for the lynch mob. Atticus bravely denies the Old Sarum bunch access to Tom Robinson and saves his life the night before the trial. Atticus also explains to his daughter the definition of real courage. Atticus tells Scout,

"It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what." (115)

Atticus goes on to demonstrate "real courage" by valiantly defending Tom Robinson in front of a prejudiced jury. Even though Atticus knows that he will not win the case, he accepts the difficult task and tries his best. Overall, Atticus reveals his courageous personality in many ways throughout the novel by controlling his anger, exercising tolerance, and defending innocent beings. 

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Considering the residual racism in Maycomb, Atticus shows courage in taking Tom Robinson's case. He knows that people will be critical of him and his children because of this decision. This is one of the many examples in which Atticus does the right thing even if that means he will face opposition as a result.

While Tom Robinson is being held in Maycomb's jail, Atticus takes it upon himself to guard the jail. He suspects some of the more racist citizens in town might come to attack and/or kill Tom. Even though Mr. Underwood was there to back him up, it certainly was brave of Atticus to sit outside the jail by himself so that he would be there to confront the mob.

In Chapter 23, Atticus explains to Jem why he did not retaliate when Bob Ewell spit on him:

Jem, see if you can stand in Bob Ewell’s shoes a minute. I destroyed his last shred of credibility at that trial, if he had any to begin with. The man had to have some kind of comeback, his kind always does. So if spitting in my face and threatening me saved Mayella Ewell one extra beating, that’s something I’ll gladly take. He had to take it out on somebody and I’d rather it be me than that houseful of children out there. You understand?

This is an example of bravery and restraint. Atticus shows incredible courage and thoughtfulness in taking Mr. Ewell's abuse without reacting. He selflessly reasons that this might save Mayella some abuse.

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Two instances of courage stand out when it comes to Atticus. First, Atticus decides to defend Tom Robinson. He knows that this is not popular and that people will hate him because of it. Moreover, he knows that he will lose the case, but he does it anyway. He commits, because it is the right thing to do, which requires great courage. Here is a dialogue between Scout and Atticus: 

"Atticus, are we going to win it?”

“No, honey.”

“Then why—”

“Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win,” Atticus said.

As for page number, all editions are different. This quote is found in chapter 9 about three pages in. 

Second, in chapter 15, Atticus faces a mob of people, led by Mr. Cunningham. They mob has been drinking and they want one thing - to harm Tom Robinson. Moreover, because Atticus is guarding him, he is in harms way and he knows it, but he still defends this. This, too, takes great courage. 

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There are many positive adjectives of personality to describe Aticus Finch and 'courageous' is certainly one of them. For one thing, at a time of great social conservatism in a small town he he does the best  he can as a sole parent for his son and daughter, despite the frowns of social disapproval this would bring (think about the criticism from Atticus's own sister).

In terms of an individual incident, we saw Atticus show extraordinary courage in placing himself directly in harm's way when he guards Tom Robinson's jail cell. He ends up having to try and talk down a lynch mob that night.

The fact that Atticus is prepared to defend a black man on such a serious charge is also testimony to his courage. He knew that it would harm his reputation, invite ridicule and scorn from the townsfolk and even place his safety and his children's safety in danger. However, he pressed ahead because he wanted to see real social justice in his community.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

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Atticus Finch is one of the main characters in Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird. It is through his actions that his children, Jem and Scout, come to understand the harsh realities in life. Through his actions, his children come to understand prejudice, hatred, standing up for one's self, and standing up against others (even when the person is considered the minority). 

That said, Atticus shows courage in a few different ways. First, he agrees to take on Tom Robinson's case, even though he is a black man and the town is very racist. Second, Atticus takes on the individuals of the town who are racist (as seen in the mob scene outside of the jail). Lastly, Atticus shoots down the rabid dog in the middle. All of theses things speak to Atticus' courage.

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1. He shows courage when he stands up against the mob.  He is Tom Robinson's attorney, and he believes Tom is innocent.  When the children show up at the event, Scout says that

"A flash of plain fear was going out of his eyes....." and "He put the newspaper down very carefully adjusting its creases with lingering fingers.  They were trembling a little" (pg 152)

Atticus realized that the mob was very dangerous, but he had to protect Tom Robinson.  It was one man against many others who had worked themselves into a frenzy and meant to hang Tom Robinson.

2. Atticus shows courage in the fact that he represents Tom Robinson.  Miss Maudi explains to the children,

"There are some men in this world who were born to do our unpleasant jobs for us.  Your father is one of them." and asks Jem, "Did it every strike you that Judge Taylor naming Atticus to defend that boy was no accident?" (pg 215)

It took someone with courage to take the job. He knew he could not win, and he knew that he could not change the racist minds of the people of Maycomb.  He says,

"There's something in our world that makes men lose their heads----they couldn't be fair if they tried.  In our courts, when it's a white man's word against a black man's, the white man always wins.  They're ugly, but those are the facts of life." (pg 220)

3. After the trial, Bob Ewell spits in Atticus's face and threatens to kill him. Atticus does not rise to the challenge, and he tells the children

"I destroyed his last shred of credibility at that trial....The man had to have some kind of comeback...So, if spitting in my face and threatening me saved Mayella Ewell one extra beating, that's something I'll gladly take." (pg 218)

 Bob Ewell also accuses Atticus of taking his job when he gets hired and fired.  He upset the welfare lady so much that she told Atticus about it.  Atticus just told her that

"....if Bob Ewell wanted to discuss Atticus's 'getting his job' he knew the way to his office." (pg 248)

Atticus's courage is the strong, silent type.  He knows what he believes, and he stands up for what is right.

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Atticus Finch is an archetype of personal courage in the novel, and his courage is demonstrated again and again. Atticus not only takes Tom Robinson's case, he defends Tom vigorously, pitting himself against the prevailing attitudes and customs of Maycomb. Atticus stands up to his neighbors' racism, knowing that in doing so, he is exposing himself and his family to difficult times. His moral courage is as strong as his physical courage, which is also demonstrated in the novel.

Atticus shows great physical courage when he positions himself between Tom Robinson and the lynch mob that has come for him. Sitting alone in front of the jail, Atticus waits for what he expects will happen. He is unarmed. The only time he shows fear occurs when the children suddenly show up and put themselves at risk. Atticus shows no fear for his own safety. With courage, he once again honors his moral principles, protecting Tom's life by risking his own.

Another display of Atticus' courage concerns his shooting of the rabid dog in front of the Radley house. Heck Tate turns to Atticus to kill the sick animal. Although he hasn't fired a gun in years. Atticus accepts the responsibility to bring the dog down in one shot, knowing that if he misses, disaster will result. 

Throughout the novel, Atticus acts with courage in living up to his principles and in accepting moral responsibility. 

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