How Does Atticus Show Courage

In To Kill a Mockingbird, how does Atticus show courage throughout the book?


Expert Answers
Douglas Horley eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are many positive adjectives of personality to describe Aticus Finch and 'courageous' is certainly one of them. For one thing, at a time of great social conservatism in a small town he he does the best  he can as a sole parent for his son and daughter, despite the frowns of social disapproval this would bring (think about the criticism from Atticus's own sister).

In terms of an individual incident, we saw Atticus show extraordinary courage in placing himself directly in harm's way when he guards Tom Robinson's jail cell. He ends up having to try and talk down a lynch mob that night.

The fact that Atticus is prepared to defend a black man on such a serious charge is also testimony to his courage. He knew that it would harm his reputation, invite ridicule and scorn from the townsfolk and even place his safety and his children's safety in danger. However, he pressed ahead because he wanted to see real social justice in his community.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Atticus Finch is an archetype of personal courage in the novel, and his courage is demonstrated again and again. Atticus not only takes Tom Robinson's case, he defends Tom vigorously, pitting himself against the prevailing attitudes and customs of Maycomb. Atticus stands up to his neighbors' racism, knowing that in doing so, he is exposing himself and his family to difficult times. His moral courage is as strong as his physical courage, which is also demonstrated in the novel.

Atticus shows great physical courage when he positions himself between Tom Robinson and the lynch mob that has come for him. Sitting alone in front of the jail, Atticus waits for what he expects will happen. He is unarmed. The only time he shows fear occurs when the children suddenly show up and put themselves at risk. Atticus shows no fear for his own safety. With courage, he once again honors his moral principles, protecting Tom's life by risking his own.

Another display of Atticus' courage concerns his shooting of the rabid dog in front of the Radley house. Heck Tate turns to Atticus to kill the sick animal. Although he hasn't fired a gun in years. Atticus accepts the responsibility to bring the dog down in one shot, knowing that if he misses, disaster will result. 

Throughout the novel, Atticus acts with courage in living up to his principles and in accepting moral responsibility. 

readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Two instances of courage stand out when it comes to Atticus. First, Atticus decides to defend Tom Robinson. He knows that this is not popular and that people will hate him because of it. Moreover, he knows that he will lose the case, but he does it anyway. He commits, because it is the right thing to do, which requires great courage. Here is a dialogue between Scout and Atticus: 

"Atticus, are we going to win it?”

“No, honey.”

“Then why—”

“Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win,” Atticus said.

As for page number, all editions are different. This quote is found in chapter 9 about three pages in. 

Second, in chapter 15, Atticus faces a mob of people, led by Mr. Cunningham. They mob has been drinking and they want one thing - to harm Tom Robinson. Moreover, because Atticus is guarding him, he is in harms way and he knows it, but he still defends this. This, too, takes great courage. 

zumba96 | Student

Atticus had to deal with a lot of people plotting against him because of the fact that he is taking up the side of justice which is also with an African man. Because of that he had to deal with a lot of hate and through the whole ordeal he never let go of his ideals and helped Tom. 

harry7459 | Student

Moral courage is the ability to act rightly in the face of popular opposition, shame, scandal, or discouragement. This is displayed when Atticus defends Tom because he cannot defend himself and he knows he will not get a fair trial. This shows Atticus’s morals are strong and despite knowing the consequences he sticks by his morals and defends Tom ‘displaying his point of view’ despite that a black man is always guilty. Atticus is ‘same in his house as he is on the public street’ strongly shows the moral courage displayed by him. Atticus does not regret Calpurnia disciplining his children as ‘[Calpurnia] tried to bring them up according to her lights, and Cal's lights are pretty good’. Atticus’s acceptance of Calpurnia as ‘parent’ is a brave thing to do, as this is not normal within Maycomb, to let a black woman discipline their children, therefore Atticus showed a moral act, which took a lot of courage. Bob Ewell coming up to Atticus and spitting on him shows great disrespect to Atticus, however he refuses to step down to Bob Ewell's level.  Ewell realizes he failed to lure Atticus into a fight, he says, "too proud to fight..." to which Atticus responds, "No, too old.". This shows that Atticus has strong morals against violence, and does not condone Ewells actions. The notion of real courage is shown throughout the novel by using moral courage.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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