With its moral messages and bildungsroman form, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is replete with significant quotes. As Jem and Scout mature, their father, whom they fondly call by his first name, Atticus, teaches his children both by word and by example; in addition, the children learn some things from observation and experience.
- Chapter One
In her description of her neighborhood, Scout recounts that the Radley place is
...inhabited by an unknown entity the mere description of whom was enough to make us behave for days on end; Mrs. Dubose was plain hell."
Here Scout exhibits the prejudices of a child who has formed judgments based upon emotional responses, not unlike the manner in which those prejudices formed by adults are made.
- Chapter Two
When Scout spends her very first day in school, she encounters unexpected attitudes and judgments. Having acquired the ability to read because she has always sat on her fathers lap as he reads the Mobile Register in the evenings, Scout does not realize that her ability to do so is unusual.
...somehow I had been wallowing illicitly in the daily papers.
....Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read.
These quotes are certainly truisms. So often children assume that just because things are done in their home a certain way that others do the same. Also, as another typical example of human nature, people do not appreciate what they have unless there is a threat or they lose that which they own.
- Chapter Three
After Scout returns home and relates what has transpired, telling Atticus of her scoldings by Miss Caroline, begging him not so send her back to school, Atticus advises her of a "simple trick" to getting along with others:
"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."
This is, perhaps, the most significant quote of the novel. Learning to understand others and their perspectives on various matters helps people to co-exist peacefully. Scout repeats her father's lesson in the final chapter as she stands on the Radley porch after having acquired new perspectives.
- Chapter Five
Miss Maudie is much like a grandmother to Jem and Scout; they feel comfortable with her and enjoy her affection for them. One day Scout asks Miss Maudie about Boo Radley; she quietly advises Scout that the Radley's is a "sad house," adding,
"The things that happen to people we never really know. What happens in houses behind closed doors, what secrets---"
She encourages Scout to be kind in her thoughts because one never knows of a person's private miseries.
- Chapter Nine
Atticus talks one evening privately with his brother; however, he knows that Scout is eavesdropping. So, when Jack asks Atticus if he cannot withdraw as the defense attorney for Tom Robinson in what will be a contentious trial, Atticus replies for Scout to hear,
"...do you think I could face my children otherwise? ...I hope and pray I can get Jem and Scout through it without bitterness, and most of all, without catching Maycomb's usual disease." [racial bias]
- Chapter Ten
In this chapter Atticus buys the children air-rifles and cautions them not to shoot at birds, but only at tin cans.
"Shoot all the bluejays [they eat other birds' eggs] you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird"
Atticus adds that mockingbirds sing all day and do not bother anything. In the novel, the mockingbird becomes the metaphor for innocent victims of society.
Later in this chapter, Miss Maudie tells the children that Atticus is "civilized in his heart." This phrase can also be extended to a lesson for the children of how they should emulate their father.
- Chapter Eleven
As tensions rise over the upcoming trial, and people hurl invectives at the children about their father, Atticus advises them that they must
"make the best of things, and the way we conduct ourselves when the chips are down--...maybe you'll look back on this [trial] with some compassion and some feeling that I didn't let you down. This case...is something that goes to the essence of a man's conscience."
He tells the children that others are entitled to their opinions, but
"before I can live with other folks, I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."
This last statement is certainly one of the most important morals of the novel. And, in the end, Jem and Scout do, indeed, look back and think that their father did not let them down because he acted upon his conscience.