What Important Lesson Does Atticus Teach Scout

What lessons does Atticus teach throughout To Kill a Mockingbird to his family, neighbors, and community?

Atticus teaches those around him, especially his children, mainly through example—most importantly, in his defense of Tom Robinson. Tom is black, and after Mayella's accusations against him, although they are false, the town is quick to hate him. By becoming Tom's lawyer, Atticus is showing others that a person should not be judged or determined guilty by color of skin. Most in town do not understand Atticus, but his actions do a positive effect on his children, who not only stick up for Tom, but Boo Radley, as well. 

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Atticus teaches his children many lessons, but the lesson on tolerance is already well explained.  He also taught the children about seeing beyond the obvious with people when he makes Jem read to Mrs. Dubose.  During that process, Jem learned to respect the old woman and understand that for all her faults that she also has strengths. When Mrs. Dubose dies, Jem truly wishes he had not known her because her death is more painful because he has learned to truly see her. Jem understands that message because at the end of the chapter, he is "fingering the wide petals" of the flower from Mrs. Dubose's garden, which indicates a level of respect he certainly didn't have for her before.

Most famously,  Atticus teaches his children about courage.  He doesn't ever tell them to act a certain way or that he sees courage in specific terms, but he does act courageously.  He puts himself in the middle of the conflict with Tom Robinson, an act so courageous that his brother compares him to Christ by making the comment "let this cup pass from you, eh?" (Chapter 9).  The children see this, and when their father is standing between the mob and Tom Robinson, the children stand with their father.  Certainly Jem would have understood the danger, and Scout understood enough to know something was wrong, and yet the children have learned from their father to act courageously.

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Primarily, Atticus teaches his children about tolerance, and he is an example of this to his neighbors and community through his interactions.  Although Atticus is assigned Tom Robinson's case, Atticus does his utmost to give Tom the best defense possible.  Color does not matter to Atticus Finch, and he tries to instill this in Scout and Jem.  He also teaches them to respect their elders, even if the elderly people are cranky and sometimes mean (such as Mrs. DeBose).  When Jem disrespects Mrs. DeBose by ripping  up her flowers (even though he was angry because she'd made a nasty remark about Atticus), Atticus makes Jem spend time reading to her.  It is only through this that Jem learns that the old woman suffers from terrible pain and is fighting a drug addiction.  By being forced to spend time with her, Jem learns to respect a woman in pain.  When the children are being busybodies about Boo Radley, Atticus sternly instructs them to leave Boo in peace and not to believe the rumors that are spread about the recluse.  Additionally, Atticus teaches the children not to judge those who do not have money.  When Walter Cunningham eats lunch with the Finch family and pours syrup on his dinner, Scout makes fun of him.  Atticus teaches her not to judge others and to try "walking around in their skin", or to put herself in their place.  Through this, Atticus is a model of respect, and the Cunningham family realizes this.

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