Using Atticus's statement that "you never really understand a person . . ." explain how this philosophy applies to at least five people in the novel.

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scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Boo Radley--Boo is the most obvious character to whom this philosophy applies. In Part One of the novel, the children regard Boo as a mysterious, violent neighbor who might roam the streets at night. By the end of the novel, after Boo saves Jem and Scout from Bob Ewell, Scout realizes what is like to "climb into someone else's skin and walk around in it" when she stands on Boo's porch and envisions all her antics from Boo's perspective. She realizes that Jem, Dill, and she must have provided Boo with hours of entertainment and that he meant no one no harm.

Miss Caroline--Scout has nothing but contempt for Miss Caroline after her first day of school, especially when her teacher tells her not to read anymore.  When the precocious narrator returns home and complains to her father about Miss Caroline, Atticus tries to get Scout to see the situation from Miss Caroline's point of view--she's a new teacher and new to the "strange" ways of Maycomb.  Later when Scout is older, her comments about the noises coming from Miss Caroline's room demonstrate that she seems to have developed some sympathy for her former teacher.

Dolphus Raymond--The children (and everyone else in town) see Dolphus Raymond as the town drunk who is married to a black woman and who has fathered "mixed" children. However, when the children leave the courtroom after being sickened by what they witness, Dolphus Raymond strikes up a conversation with them, and they find out that he simply puts on an act so that people will let him live his life the way he wants to. All anyone would have to do to know the real Dolphus is talk to him as the children do or see things from his perspective--then his seemingly odd behavior makes sense.

Walter Cunningham--When Scout tells Miss Caroline about the Cunninghams' desperate situation, she thinks that she is helping him.  The same is true when she scoffs at his table "manners." Calpurnia corrects Scout on this and explains what it means to be a good hostess, and throughout the novel, Atticus tactfully discusses with Scout what it means to be as poor as the Cunninghams.  Once Scout realizes what it would be like to live in such a situation, she leaves Walter alone.

Calpurnia--At the novel's beginning, Calpurnia represents a mother figure to the children, mainly someone who disciplined them when they needed it.  Jem and Scout had gotten so used to having Calpurnia around that they really didn't think about how her life as an African-American was different from theirs. They don't truly understand this until Calpurnia takes them to her church and tells them how her son learned to read because she didn't have access to textbooks like they do.  They also "stand in her shoes" when they see that the way Tom Robinson is treated is quite similar to what she has had to endure in life.

It is possible to take almost every character in To Kill a Mockingbird and apply this quote because Scout matures so much throughout the course of the novel, and a major part of her maturation is her learned ability to put herself in another's place.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Continuing with examples that support Atticus's statement, Jem and Scout both learn the profundity of their father's words after Jem is assigned to read to Mrs. Dubois in retribution for Jem's impetuous act of chopping off the top of her camellias.  It is then that he learns the true meaning of Atticus's statement as well as his father's remark that Mrs. Dubose "has enough trouble of her own."  After reading to Mrs. Dubose each afternoon for the assigned duration, Jem's sentence is lifted. At this time Atticus tells the children that he is going to visit her; when he returns he informs the children that Mrs. Dubose is dead after having voluntarily withdrawn herself from her addiction to morphine.:

She said she was going to leave this world beholden to nothing and nobody....She said she meant to break herself of it before she died, and that is what she did."

Atticus tells Jem that he, his son, has seen what real courage is in the person of Mrs. Dubose.  Courage, Atticus says, 

occurs when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what....She was the bravest eprson I ever knew.

Also, in Chapter 19 as Scout observes and listens to Tom Robinson's testimony, she remarks that

It occurred to me that in their own way, Tom Robinson's manners were as good as Atticus's.  Until my father explained it to me later, I did not understand the subtlety of Tom's predicament:  he would not have dared strike a white woman under any circumstances and expect to live long, so he took the first opportunity to run--a sure sign of guilt.



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To Kill a Mockingbird

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