In To Kill a Mockingbird, what are quotes that show Atticus understanding other people and their current place in life? (Ex: Atticus letting Bob Ewell spit on his face if that meant one less...

In To Kill a Mockingbird, what are quotes that show Atticus understanding other people and their current place in life? (Ex: Atticus letting Bob Ewell spit on his face if that meant one less beating for Mayella.)

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In chapter 23, Atticus discusses the incident with Bob Ewell spitting in his face with Jem. He says the following:

"Jem, see if you can stand in Bob Ewell's shoes a minute. I destroyed his last shred of credibility at that trial, if he had any to begin with. The man had to have some kind of comeback, his kind always does. So if spitting in my face and threatening me saved Mayella Ewell one extra beating, that's something I'll gladly take" (218).

The fact that Atticus does not begrudge someone like Ewell, or anyone for that matter, stems from his skill to see behind people's bad behavior. Ewell even threatens to kill him, but Atticus doesn't take much stock in it because he also understands that people will say irrational things that they don't mean when they are angry.

This does not mean, however, that he condones his own children to say or do things in anger. For example, in chapter 11 when Jem chops off the tops of Mrs. Dubose's camellia bushes because he is angry with her for insulting his father, Atticus had expected Jem to ignore it and to apply this skill of understanding with an old woman. Atticus teaches Jem this trick by saying the following about Mrs. Dubose:

"Jem, she's old and ill. You can't hold her responsible for what she says and does. Of course, I'd rather she'd have said it to me than to either of you, but we can't always have our 'druthers" (105).

This passage shows that Atticus does not take offense when Mrs. Dubose insults his name, but he doesn't hold her responsible for her loose tongue. He realizes that from her point of view, she is old and sick, which would make anyone grumpy. This understanding and tolerant attitude can be traced back to Atticus's motto on dealing with people which he gives Scout in chapter three:

". . . if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view--until you climb into his skin and walk around in it" (30).

Scout tries to apply this "simple trick" throughout the novel so she won't be inclined to fight when someone insults her. Atticus figures that if his children can learn to understand people's struggles before judging them, then they will live happier and less begrudging lives. 

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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