How do other characters reinforce the lessons that Atticus teaches Scout and Jem?

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One character throughout the novel To Kill a Mockingbird who reinforces Atticus' lessons is Miss Maudie. Miss Maudie is the Finches' kind neighbor who is a morally upright individual like Atticus. At the beginning of Chapter 10, Atticus gives Jem and Scout their air rifles and lets them shoot at tin cans and birds. He says, "Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird" (Lee 119). Miss Maudie elaborates on Atticus' comment and explains to the children why it is considered a sin to kill a mockingbird. She says,

"Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird" (Lee 119).

Essentially, both Atticus and Miss Maudie are metaphorically telling the children that it is wrong to harm innocent beings. Mockingbirds symbolize any innocent being throughout the novel and several characters are represented as symbolic mockingbirds. Tom Robinson and Boo Radley are symbolic mockingbirds because they both are innocent beings who are helpful and do not harm anybody.

In Chapter 30, Sheriff Tate tells Atticus that he refuses to tell the community about Boo Radley's heroics. He mentions that informing the community would bring unwanted attention to the Radley home. Tate tells Atticus,

"To my way of thinkin', Mr. Finch, taking the one man who's done you and this town a great service an' draggin' him with his shy ways into the limelight—to me, that's a sin" (Lee 370).

Sheriff Tate's reasoning for not telling the community about Boo saving the children correlates with Atticus' lesson about not killing a mockingbird. Sheriff Tate feels that he needs to protect the innocent Boo Radley, the same way Atticus urges his children not to harm mockingbirds.

Atticus looks down at Scout and asks her if she understands Sheriff Tate's reasoning. Scout says, "Yes sir, I understand... Mr. Tate was right" (Lee 370). Atticus asks her what she means, and Scout says, "Well, it'd be sort of like shootin' a mockingbird, wouldn't it?" (Lee 370).

Scout's response reflects her moral development and understanding of Atticus' earlier lesson. She takes Atticus' lesson about how it is a sin to kill a mockingbird and applies it to Boo Radley's situation. Scout realizes that Boo is an innocent being, just like a mockingbird, and the right thing to do is protect them. Sheriff Tate's decision to not disclose Boo Radley's involvement is essentially the same thing as not shooting an innocent mockingbird.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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