Throughout the novel, Atticus Finch constantly tries to impress on his children the importance of empathy and compassion. Both Scout and Jem are strong-willed children and have had considerable independence. Atticus is concerned that they learn both pride in their accomplishments and humility in interacting with other people. Atticus frequently uses the phrase “walk in someone else’s shoes” or sometimes their “skin” to convey that the children should try to imagine things from the other person’s perspective.
Atticus sometimes needs to apply this principle himself. Respect for the rule of law is a guiding principle for this attorney. After Bob Ewell is killed while attacking the Finch children, Atticus initially believes Jem killed him and assumes that Sheriff Tate will investigate his son like anyone else. As Tate gradually makes him understand that Arthur “Boo” Radley was almost certainly the killer, Atticus must walk in Arthur’s shoes. He finally agrees with Tate that it would be better not to press for the truth.
Scout and Jem gain empathy for several characters, both through their individual and their shared experiences. Their changing relationship with Radley carries through the whole novel. Because they originally thought of him as a monster rather than a human being, they were often unkind to him. After he saves their lives and they meet him, they have to acknowledge his humanity and individuality. Jem is so disturbed by all the bad goings-on in Maycomb that he comes to understand why Arthur prefers to stay inside. Scout actually walks to Arthur’s house with him and imagines how he has seen them playing and discovering his gifts in the tree. She concludes,
Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.