To Kill a Mockingbird Questions and Answers
by Harper Lee

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What are six lessons that Atticus teaches Scout and Jem in To Kill a Mockingbird?

The lessons Atticus teaches Scout and Jem are to always be considerate of other perspectives, to fight with their minds, to treasure and respect innocence, to realize that appearances can be deceptive, to appreciate true courage, and to appreciate the value of integrity.

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Atticus teaches Scout and Jem that it is important to get along with your social group, even if you are in disagreement with them. He knows many of his white neighbors will be upset that he is mounting a real defense of Tom Robinson and counsels his children to ignore what they hear and not to get into fights on his account.

Atticus also teaches his children to be modest about innate talents: he believes one shouldn't flaunt what hasn't been earned. This emerges when he kills the rabid dog. Tim Johnson and the children are impressed to find out Atticus has a natural talent as a sharpshooter. He hasn't told them because he doesn't think it is anything to brag about.

Atticus, like Miss Maudie, is not interested in the Southern past or ancestry as a particular point of pride. Aunt Alexandra is shocked at how little the children know about their forebears, as she is invested in the typical white Southern obsession with ancestry, but Atticus teaches Jem and Scout that it is what you yourself achieve, not what your ancestors did, that is important.

Atticus impresses on the children that it is important to do the right thing even if you lose. Winning a battle is less important than fighting the good fight. He uses Mrs. Dubose's battle to free herself of morphine addiction as an example. The prime example, however, is Atticus's robust defense of Tom Robinson, even though he knows that his client's conviction is a forgone conclusion.

Atticus teaches the children the importance of respecting all people. He insists that Scout respect Calpurnia and always sides with the black maid over his daughter. He treats Walter Cunningham with courtesy and respect, inviting him to dinner and making him feel comfortable as he pours molasses on his food; later, Aunt Alexandra will not have Walter over to dinner, thinking his lower class ways are a bad influence.

Finally, in a phrase that gives the book its title, Atticus teaches the children it is wrong to kill a mockingbird. A mockingbird is an innocent creature or person who harms nobody and in fact tries to help, even if only by singing a sweet song. The two metaphorical mockingbirds in the story are Tom and Boo.

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Atticus Finch teaches his children by direction and by example; he conducts this instruction with love and understanding. Thus, his lessons are well learned by Jem and Scout Finch.

Here are six lessons that Atticus teaches his children:

1. "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."

In Chapter 3 Atticus listens to Scout's complaints about her new teacher; then, he urges her to perceive things through her teacher's point of view because doing so will help Scout better understand Miss Caroline. 
Scout later alludes to this advice of her father as she stands on the Radley porch in the final chapter. From Boo's porch her neighborhood seems somewhat different, and Scout reviews things that have happened from a new perspective and, thus, attains new insights.

2. "Try fighting with your head...."

After Scout wants to physically fight Cecil Jacobs for his derogatory remarks about her father's "defending n*****s," Atticus counsels Scout to not use her fists ever time she becomes angry because using logic instead to defeat people's petty remarks is often more effective.

 3. "It's a sin to kill a mockingbird." 

Both Tom Robinson and Boo Radley are people who do not bother anyone; on the contrary, they are kind, and try to help others. However, for different reasons, they are outside the "norm" and, therefore, are made objects of ridicule or bigotry. Repeatedly, Boo does kind deeds for the children, such as sewing Jem's pants, leaving soap figures for them in the knothole, and saving Jem and Scout from the murderous knife of Bob Ewell. The kind Tom merely helps Mayella Ewell because there is no one else who will. Both men are metaphoric mockingbirds, and it is certainly a sin when Tom is shot seventeen times.

4. Appearances are often deceptive.

The children have always considered their father as an old man, who "didn't do anything" because he works in an office when other men drive trucks or farm or work in a garage. But, when the dog called Tim Johnson appears rabid, Calpurnia calls Atticus, and he hurries home with Sheriff Tate. As the dog staggers down their street, Atticus asks Tate to shoot, but the sheriff tells Atticus, "Mr. Finch, this is a one-shot job," urging him to shoot because he is more accurate. So, Atticus takes the rifle and shoots the dog. Afterwards, Jem is jubilant because he realizes that his father can, indeed, do great things, but he is too much of a gentleman to exhibit his skill. He and Scout have only been deceived by appearances.

 5. "I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand." 

After he has been assigned to read to her, Jem learns why Mrs. Dubose has been hateful in her comments about Atticus.  She has been trying to beat her addiction to morphine, and when she suffers from this withdrawal, she says cruel things.
Atticus calls her brave because withdrawing from a drug is a very painful experience. Courageously, Mrs. Dubose wants to meet death with full consciousness. 

6. "The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."

Atticus explains to his children that he must accept his assignment as the defense attorney for Tom Robinson because he believes in justice for everyone. He explains to his children that he must practice his beliefs; otherwise, he cannot go to church and not be a hypocrite. So, no matter what people believe, or what people call him, Scout and Jem will realize after the trial that he has done what his profession, his Christian beliefs, and his conscience demand. And, after they attend the trial, Jem and Scout do, indeed, realize that Atticus has demonstrated true integrity.

 

 

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