How are ideas of good and bad, right and wrong, and manners and politeness expressed in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Throughout the entire Harper Lee novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch can be counted upon to serve as the conscience of the town. Atticus is always there for Jem and Scout when they need a guiding hand or an example to be followed. Although even Atticus has his faults, they are few, and he imparts his wisdom upon his children time and again. He cautions them to give Boo his privacy; to ignore the insults of Mrs. Dubose and the taunts of schoolmates; to defend the weak (Tom Robinson) and feed the poor (Walter Cunningham). As a single parent, he gives of himself and shows his affection, but he is quick to punish when necessary. He still allows his children more independence than most, and teaches them to be virtuous and honest through his own actions.

Jem learns one of his greatest lessons after Atticus kills the mad dog and discovers his father's nickname of "One Shot Finch." Killing is nothing to brag about, and Jem understands this act of humility.

     "Maybe it just slipped his mind," I said.
     "Naw, Scout. It's something you wouldn't understand. Atticus is real old, but I wouldn't care if he couldn't do anything--I wouldn't care if he couldn't do a blessed thing... Atticus is a gentleman, just like me."

He is also the conscience of the town, the man who everyone can count on to do the right thing. He protects Tom at the jail against the lynch mob, knowing that he might be hurt or killed. He defends Tom when no one else will, knowing that his actions will alienate the town and endanger his children. He turns the other cheek when Bob Ewell spits upon him, and he is willing to give up his son when it appears that Jem may have killed Ewell.

In spite of all of this, Atticus has been reelected to the Alabama legislature repeatedly without opposition. As an attorney, Atticus transcends even Maycomb, becoming a sort of folk hero in real-life lawyer circles. Few characters in literature have ever been so revered.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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