What are some quotes to show Atticus's empathy?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In chapter 3, Atticus speaks with Scout about her first day at school. Scout says that she doesn't want to go back. She tells Atticus about her teacher, Miss Caroline, who told her to tell Atticus to stop teaching her how to read. Miss Caroline also punished Scout by striking her across her hand with a ruler. Atticus tells Scout,

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 other words, Atticus suggests that Scout should try harder to empathize with people, including Miss Caroline. After all, Miss Caroline is new to Maycomb County and must be finding it hard to adjust.

In chapter 22, Calpurnia takes Atticus through to the kitchen to show him all of the gifts of food that the African Americans of Maycomb County have left for him to express their gratitude for the effort he put into his defense of Tom Robinson. In response, "Atticus's eyes filled with tears." He tells Calpurnia to pass on the message that "they must never do this again. Times are too hard." Atticus cries because he empathizes with the poverty of those who have left him the gifts, and also because he empathizes with how difficult their lives are. The fact that they are so grateful simply because a defense attorney has done his job properly indicates how seldom it is that they receive fair and equal treatment. Atticus is very aware of this injustice, and the gifts remind him that these African Americans have lived for so long with it and will likely continue to live with it for some time to come.

On the final page of the novel, Scout describes the events in a story Atticus has been reading to her, which seems to be about a boy ("Stoner's Boy") who is falsely accused of "messin' up (a) clubhouse." Scout says that the boy "hadn't done any of those things . . . he was real nice." Atticus replies, "Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them." It's very fitting, of course, that these should be the last words that we hear from Atticus in the story. They succinctly epitomize the main lesson that he has been trying, throughout the story, to teach his children, namely not to be judgmental but rather to try to empathize with people.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Throughout the novel, Atticus displays empathy towards other people and has the ability to understand their feelings. In Chapter 3, Atticus explains to Scout that it is important to understand a person's point of view after she complains about Miss Caroline. Atticus says, "if Walter and I had put ourselves in her shoes we'd have seen it was an honest mistake on her part. We could not expect her to learn all Maycomb's ways in one day, and we could not hold her responsible when she knew no better." (Lee 40) Atticus conveys how Miss Caroline must have felt being a newcomer to Maycomb, and tells Scout not to blame her for misunderstanding certain situations.

In Chapter 10, Atticus displays empathy for Mrs. Dubose. While Jem and Scout view her as a mean, old lady, Atticus tells his children, "She's old and ill. You can't hold her responsible for the things she says and does." (Lee 140) Atticus understands that Mrs. Dubose is terminally ill and battling a morphine addiction. He knows that she is under a lot of stress, and it's the reason he tells his children that she can't be held responsible for her actions. Instead of viewing her with contempt, he feels sympathy for her.

In Chapter 23, Bob Ewell spits in Atticus' face while he is leaving the post office. Instead of retaliating, Atticus stands and listens to Bob Ewell curse at him. When Atticus sees Jem at home, he explains why he did not react with violence. He says, "Jem, if you could stand in Bob Ewell's shoes a minute. I destroyed his last shred of credibility at that trial, if he had any to begin with. The man had to have some kind of comeback, his kind always does. So if spitting in my face and threatening me saved Mayella Ewell one extra beating, that's something I'll gladly take." (Lee 293) Atticus displays empathy for Bob Ewell by understanding his anger and resentment.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial