What advice/life lessons do characters receive in To Kill a Mockingbird?   

Expert Answers
MaudlinStreet eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This novel is filled with life lessons. Atticus, in his defense of Tom, shows the children how to stand up for what is right, without resorting to violence or lowering one's self to the level of insults or revenge. By forcing Jem to read to Mrs. Dubose, he shows them courage in a form they would never expect. Through her, they learn the true meaning of bravery. He also tells Scout to keep her head up and her fists down during the trial, because he knows the children will face incredible racism throughout it.

One of the most important lessons comes from both Atticus and Ms. Maudie, through the character of Boo Radley. When they're young, Scout and Jem make fun of Boo in their games, and invent stories to scare each other. However, both Atticus and Ms. Maudie discourage them in these games. When Atticus buys the children rifles, he sums up this lesson:

Atticus said to Jem one day, “I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

That’s the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.

“Your father is right,” she said. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

Without realizing, Jem, Scout, and Dill have in a way been trying to kill that mockingbird. The children have built up a view of Boo based solely on a preconceived notion that is completely wrong. This is similar to the racism evident in the rest of the town: a judgment made before knowledge. By the end of novel, Scout has certainly learned this lesson, as she says that revealing Boo as the hero would be "sorta like killin' a mockingbird". This connects to Atticus' other timely advice: you can never understand someone until you walk around in his skin. Again, Scout uses this advice at the end of the novel to understand Boo.

One final lesson is found in the character of Dolphus Raymond. He lives with a black woman and their children, although he is a well-off white man. This would be nearly unheard of in 1930s South, which is why he pretends to be drunk. He tells the children that sometimes people need something to blame when they can't understand someone's actions or beliefs. Thus, he shows them that appearances are deceiving, and that one can live how he/she wants without conforming to society's standards.

rugbykats eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I'm sorry I don't have the book with me, so no page numbers, but here are some thoughts ...

Calpurnia punishes Scout for criticizing a lunch guest (the Cunningham boy) who poured syrup on all of his food. Calpurnia tells her that when someone is her guest, she should not criticize him or her.

Atticus teaches Scout about compromise. When she starts off school on "the wrong foot" and does not want to go back, he explains what compromise means and tells her they will continue to read together (against her teacher's wishes) if she will continue to go to school each day.

Atticus teaches and demonstrates that work need not be paid for with money. Some of the poorer people around town pay with goods because it is all they have.

He teaches Jem about being responsible for his actions. When Jem destroys the Mrs. DuBose's flowers, Atticus tells Jem he must make it up to her by doing what she asks.

Earlier, he demonstrates how others' words or actions should not affect your own by speaking courteously to Mrs. Dubose, even though she was yelling insults at Scout. Again, when Mr. Ewell spits on him, he does not allow himself to be baited into a fight.

And, of course, he teaches that racism is wrong, by doing his best to defend a black man accused of rape by a white woman in the 1930s Deep South.

Hope this helps. Good luck!

e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A number of lessons are presented in To Kill a Mockingbird. These are two lessons explictly offered in the novel:

  • Learn to walk in someone else's shoes before you judge their value, quality, or actions. 
  • It's when you dare to try even when you know you're licked before you start that you prove your courage. 
Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question