In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, how did Atticus display stewardship of his influence, besides defending Tom Robinson?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Stewardship is defined as...

...the responsible overseeing and protection of something considered worth caring for and preserving

In other words, a steward is someone who looks after the affairs and/or well-being of those other than himself.

In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, it is easy to see Atticus as a good steward for Tom Robinson during his trial. However, the reader can find it in several other instances in the story as well.

First, when Walter Cunningham does not have money to pay Atticus for legal services rendered, Atticus agrees to take his fee in goods. Atticus is not one to insist upon payment when someone is short of funds, but Atticus also understands (as does Scout) that Mr. Cunningham is a proud man who does not believe in charity or loans. 

Atticus is also a good steward with Mrs. Dubose. When Jem angrily cuts off the tops of Mrs. Dubose's flowers because of a derogatory comment the older woman makes about his father, Atticus makes Jem go to Mrs. Dubose's house to read to her. It is not just because of Jem's behavior that Atticus does this. After Mrs. Dubose dies, Atticus tells Jem he would have done it either way. First, he explains that Mrs. Dubose was old and sick, and that Jem (for those reasons) should not have held Mrs. Dubose responsible for what she said.

More importantly is Atticus' stewardship of his children. He has already told them that defending Tom Robinson was something he had to do if he wanted to be respected by the people of Maycomb—it was his civic duty, and it is the right thing to do. He also tells Scout that in order to understand others, she should put herself in another person's place—"to climb into someone's skin and walk around in it for a while."

With Mrs. Dubose, Atticus also wants Jem to see what genuine courage looks like, and this is a major theme of the story. Courage is not what Jem sees when the lynch mob comes to the jail to hang Tom Robinson. It is not what Bob Ewell tries to do when he attacks the children, or when he spits in Atticus' face. Atticus tells Jem:

I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. Mrs. Dubose won, all ninety-eight pounds of her. According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew.

From this quote, we see discover a number of things. We learn Atticus' definition of bravery. We also recognize Atticus' respect for someone who lives his or her life according to his or her own standards: Mrs. Dubose lived according to her views—and while Atticus did not appreciate all of them, he respected her commitment to fight the good fight. Finally, the reader also witnesses the important Atticus sees in instructing his son about the nature of true courage: it has nothing to do with force but rather with sheer perseverance even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

Ironically, even after the court trial, Atticus shows stewardship with regard to the Ewell family. When Bob Ewell spits in Atticus' face, Atticus understands that he robbed the other man of whatever credibility Ewell had in the community and he now has a need to take it out on someone. Atticus feels that if taking Ewell's abusive behavior quietly spares Mayella—or any of the other Ewell children—a beating, it was worth it.

We see stewardship in Heck Tate's protection of Boo Radley. We witness it also when Miss Maudie attempts to help the Finch children see Boo Radley as a sympathetic figure rather than believing Stephanie Crawford's rumors. 

In the small town of Maycomb, stewardship is not the work of only one person, but Atticus' character—more than any other—works hard to make certain that he is a good steward for others within in the community, as well as at home with Jem and Scout. 



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To Kill a Mockingbird

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