To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird book cover
Start Your Free Trial

How is human dignity portrayed in To Kill a Mockingbird?

Expert Answers info

lhurley2844 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2018

write394 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee portrays human dignity through the choices made by the characters. For example, Atticus makes a choice to defend a black man to the best of his ability in spite of many citizens feeling strongly he should do otherwise. Atticus also chooses to look past the hurtful comments he and his children receive as a result of his choice. It is his decision to continue along the path of doing what is right over doing what is comfortable that shows dignity.

In contrast, consider Bob Ewell. His decisions are made in attempts to do what is comfortable and convenient above what is right or true. Upon finding his daughter with Tom Robinson, Bob beats her and blames an innocent man. While Atticus models compassion for his children, Bob Ewell models racism and deceit.

At the end of the story, Sheriff Heck Tate faces a dilemma. He knows the truth about the events with Boo Radley and Bob Ewell. In this case, Sheriff Tate sees a difference between what is right and what is true. Here, human dignity is portrayed through Sheriff Tate's choice to protect Boo.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial
asorrell eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2006

write90 answers

starTop subject is Literature

Atticus Finch is about as dignified as a character as you'll ever see in American Literature.  Atticus defends Tom to the best of his ability even though many people in the town think he shouldn't.  Atticus does the right thing no matter what.  At one point he tells Scout that if he didn't defend Tom, he wouldn't be able to tell Scout and Jem not to something again. 

check Approved by eNotes Editorial
gbeatty eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2007

write2,654 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Science

The answers are related, but distinct. Lee portrays it as everyone's responsibility to fight for human dignity, and indicates that the battle can be fought everywhere and anywhere; human dignity is generated through moral courage and depends on that quality. Whether it is Calpurnia protecting the children at her church or Atticus defending Tom, characters attain dignity not through winning their battles but through standing up for what they know to be right.

Further Reading:
check Approved by eNotes Editorial

jkloss10 | Student

Atticus Finch is characterized as a self-respecting, compassionate man who understands that even though human beings can make negative choices, those choices do not completely define them. He looks for the good in people and chooses to focus on those characteristics. His ability to see the worth in all people is reflected in the values he instills in Scout and Jem, his decision to defend Tom, and his understanding of the recluse, Boo Radley. Atticus believes that all people deserve dignity and respect. He models this in his interactions with other characters. A clear example would be concerning Mrs. Dubose who the children view an unkind racist. Atticus, instead, chooses to focus on and admire the strength she exhibits in fighting her addiction to morphine.

Photo Credit: http://www.duhaime.org/LegalDictionary/H/HumanDignity.aspx

Unlock This Answer Now