What are three pieces of evidence from the novel To Kill A Mockingbird that supports the idea that Atticus Finch is wise?

Expert Answers

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

One of the main themes or messages of the novel is Atticus' exemplary character in the eyes of his feisty but adoring daughter. Therefore, we are offered many examples of Atticus's wisdom.

Atticus' wisdom is revealed, for example, in chapter 10 , when he is called on to shoot...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

One of the main themes or messages of the novel is Atticus' exemplary character in the eyes of his feisty but adoring daughter. Therefore, we are offered many examples of Atticus's wisdom.

Atticus' wisdom is revealed, for example, in chapter 10, when he is called on to shoot the rabid dog, Tim Johnson. At this point, Scout discovers that Atticus has long been an expert marksmen, nicknamed "One-Shot Finch" by his neighbors. When she asks Miss Maudie why Atticus never talks about his skill at shooting, Miss Maudie explains this is because he is wise enough to enough to understand that it would be wrong to flaunt a talent that is simply a gift from God. The importance of modesty is a piece of wisdom that Atticus conveys to his children through his example.

Atticus shows his wisdom too when he tells his children from the start that he can't win the Tom Robinson case. He wants them to be prepared for the reality that groups often put their own self interest ahead of justice. In this case, the whites in Maycomb feel the need to affirm their supremacy. Atticus knows this will override their desire to see that Robinson is treated fairly. While it is still hard on the children, especially Jem, to realize that life is unfair, Atticus shows them through his excellent defense of Robinson that it best to do the right thing, even if the cause is hopeless.

Atticus is also wise in conveying to the children that people shouldn't be judged by their exteriors. They learn this in many ways, but an important lesson comes in chapter 11 when they read aloud to the difficult and unpleasant Mrs. Dubose. She is always mean to them, but they also find out that she is determined to shake a morphine addiction before she dies. When she does so, they realize she is a person of courage. Atticus tells them she is one of the most courageous people he has known:

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. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what

Atticus's words apply to himself, as well as Mrs. Dubose.

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

There are numerous scenes in the novel where Atticus demonstrates his wisdom. In his conversation with Uncle Jack in chapter 9, Atticus makes several wise comments. When Uncle Jack initially complains about Scout's "bathroom invective," Atticus demonstrates his wisdom regarding children's behavior by telling his brother,

"Bad language is a stage all children go through, and it dies with time when they learn they’re not attracting attention with it. Hotheadedness isn’t. Scout’s got to learn to keep her head and learn soon, with what’s in store for her these next few months" (Lee, 90).

When Uncle Jack asks his brother about his upcoming case, Atticus responds by saying,

"It couldn’t be worse, Jack. The only thing we’ve got is a black man’s word against the Ewells'. The evidence boils down to you-did—I-didn’t. The jury couldn’t possibly be expected to take Tom Robinson’s word against the Ewells’" (Lee, 91).

Atticus understands that he does not have a chance to win the case and realizes that the prejudiced jury will surely convict Tom Robinson despite his excellent defense. Atticus is wise enough to understand the nature of the prejudiced community and does not have unrealistic views of how the trial will end.

In chapter 16, Atticus once again reveals his wisdom by discussing the nature of mob mentality. Atticus tells his children that Mr. Cunningham is still a good man, who was simply influenced by the group of people surrounding him. Atticus understands the effect that a mob can have on an individual and tells his children,

"A mob’s always made up of people, no matter what. Mr. Cunningham was part of a mob last night, but he was still a man. Every mob in every little Southern town is always made up of people you know— doesn’t say much for them, does it?" (Lee, 159).

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

Perhaps the best examples of Atticus's wisdom come in the wise words that he provides for his children during the novel. After Scout's disastrous first day at school, where she is punished, humiliated and "whipped" by the new teacher, Miss Caroline, followed by her decision to beat up and then behave rudely to her guest, Walter Cunningham Jr., Atticus gives her some words to remember:

"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."  (Chapter 3)

Scout takes this to heart, stepping into the skin of Mayella and Bob Ewell to better understand their actions before finally standing on the Radley porch at the end of the story, looking out over her neighborhood as if seeing things from Boo's perspective.

Another of Atticus's wise words deal with the title of the novel. After Jem and Scout receive air rifles as Christmas presents, he warns them that "it's a sin to kill a mockingbird" (Chapter 10). Jem and Scout both understand the literal meaning of Atticus's words, but they also come to see the symbolic message as well. Scout understands the meaning behind newspaperman B. B. Underwood's editorial comparing Tom's death to the "slaughter of songbirds by hunters and children" (Chapter 25). At the end of the story, Scout recognizes Boo as a human mockingbird when she tells Atticus that revealing Boo as Bob Ewell's killer would "be sort of like shootin' a mockingbird, wouldn't it" (Chapter 30)?

Yet another example of Atticus's wisdom comes when he is forced to test his old marksmanship skills by killing the mad dog which threatens the neighborhood. Jem benefits most from Atticus's display of humility: His father had never bragged that he was once the "deadest shot in Maycomb County," and Miss Maudie explains that "People in their right minds never brag about their talents" (Chapter 10). Atticus's actions are immediately emulated by Jem, who decides that

"Atticus is a gentleman, just like me!"  (Chapter 10)

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team