To Kill a Mockingbird Questions and Answers
by Harper Lee

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How does Atticus show integrity in To Kill a Mockingbird in reference to the quote below? "I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of...

How does Atticus show integrity in To Kill a Mockingbird in reference to the quote below?

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.

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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This refers both to Atticus's skill as a sharpshooter and Mrs. Dubose's struggles to overcome morphine addiction. Atticus is considered courageous for killing the rabid dog, but as he understands and tries to communicate to his children, his skill with a gun is an inborn talent that has nothing to do with real courage.

Mrs. Dubose, the subject of Atticus's quote, shows true courage in battling her addiction and coming clean before she dies. There's no reason for her to fight this battle, but she does it anyway because she wants to be true to herself. That, Atticus says, shows genuine mettle.

The quote also refer to him—though he is not thinking of himself at the time. He shows true courage and integrity in going against the racist customs of his town and mounting a true defense for Tom Robinson. He knows he can't win and that people will hate him for it, but he does it anyway because it is the right thing to do.

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mwestwood eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Atticus Finch displays integrity when he speaks of Mrs. Dubose in a laudatory manner to his son Jem.

Three synonyms for integrity are honesty, decency, and fairness. Atticus exhibits these three qualities when he speaks to his son after Mrs. Dubose's death. For he decently puts aside the differences in views that he and Mrs. Dubose have had on specific issues such as defending Tom Robinson. He has also forgiven her for having upbraided his children and vilified him. In fairness to Mrs. Dubose, Atticus tells Jem that Mrs. Dubose demonstrated "real courage" by taking herself off the morphine to which she was addicted because she wanted to die "beholden to nothing and nobody." When Atticus tells Jem, "She was the bravest person I ever knew," this is an honest compliment because he feels that Mrs. Dubose possessed real courage in going through painful drug withdrawal. For Atticus explains real courage as "when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway, and you see it through no matter what" (Chapter 11). Mrs. Dubose was "licked" because she was in such poor condition; nevertheless, she withdrew from her morphine so that she could die free of the drug.

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Jason Lulos eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Atticus demonstrates his integrity without flaw, throughout To Kill a Mockingbird. In this quote from Chapter 11, he is talking about Mrs. Dubose. Despite the fact that she's cranky, generally unliked, and has even made racist comments about Atticus' involvement with Tom Robinson, Atticus considers what life must be like for her. He never assumes. And here, he doesn't simply assume that Mrs. Dubose is just a mean, hateful woman. For whatever reason, Atticus is privy to the information that Mrs. Dubose had been addicted to morphine (perhaps as a result of some illness, likely the one that killed her). Mrs. Dubose knew her death was approaching but she wanted to kick her morphine addiction before she died, to "die free" as Jem put it. 

Atticus notes that he and Mrs. Dubose did not agree on many issues, but she demonstrated courage in doing what she thought was right. Near the end of Chapter 11, Atticus says, "According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody." 

This description of Mrs. Dubose is analogous to the trial. Atticus knew it would be difficult, if not impossible, to get Tom a verdict of "not guilty." But, he did his best anyway. This is how he demonstrates his integrity. He notes that courage is doing the right thing even in spite of the likelihood that you will fail and in spite of the possibility that no one will notice your efforts. This may sound redundant but what Atticus means is that courage is doing the right thing for no other reason than it is the right thing to do: not for reward or approval. 

 

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