What are three quotes that shows Atticus Finch's empathy in To Kill a Mockingbird?

Atticus shows empathy towards Mrs. Dubose by telling Jem, "You can’t hold her responsible for what she says and does." Atticus also empathizes with Mr. Cunningham by saying, "Mr. Cunningham’s basically a good man … he just has his blind spots along with the rest of us." Atticus shows empathy for Miss Caroline by saying, "We could not expect her to learn all Maycomb’s ways in one day."

Expert Answers

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

Atticus Finch is presented as a paragon of empathy throughout this novel. Empathy is a trait he exhibits at all times, and he constantly strives to teach it to his two children. There are numerous quotations from To Kill a Mockingbird in which Atticus displays empathy.

Atticus sums up his position on empathy succinctly when he tells Scout that,

First of all, if you learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. 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)

Atticus is adept at understanding other people, even people with vastly different life experiences. The key to this is empathy. To empathetically understand other people, Atticus suggests to Scout that she imagine herself as if she actually was that other person.

Atticus is even able to empathize with people who would insult and disparage him and his family. Mrs. Dubose, his crotchety ill-tempered neighbor has few kind words for Atticus and his children. However, Atticus urges Jem and Scout to always be respectful to her despite the abusive words that she hurls at them. Scout asks her father if the things that Mrs. Dubose and others call him are true. She asks if he really is a "n*****-lover". Atticus's response speaks volumes to his efforts to be empathetic:

I certainly am. I do my best to love everybody … I'm hard put sometimes—baby, it's never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn't hurt you. (Chapter 11)

Even the very last thing Atticus says in the book speaks to his feelings of the power of empathy. Scout is describing the events of the story that Atticus has been reading to her. Scout tells her dad that the main character of the story had not done anything bad even though the other characters thought he had. Instead, "he was real nice." To this, Atticus responds,

Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them. (Chapter 31)

This short line illustrates how Atticus strives to truly see people as they really are, not according to the judgments and prejudices of others.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Atticus Finch demonstrates empathy in chapter three when he challenges Scout to metaphorically climb into Miss Caroline's skin and view the situation from her perspective. Atticus exercises empathy by considering Miss Caroline's feelings and background. Atticus informs Scout that Miss Caroline is not familiar with Maycomb's ways and encourages his daughter to empathize with her teacher because she is new to the area. Scout reiterates Atticus's comments by saying,

She [Miss Caroline] had learned not to hand something to a Cunningham, for one thing, but 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.

Atticus empathizes with Miss Caroline by considering her unique situation and not judging her for mistakenly handing Walter Cunningham Jr. a quarter without knowing that he would not accept it. Atticus also exercises empathy in chapter eleven after Jem destroys Mrs. Dubose's camellia bush. Despite Mrs. Dubose's racial slurs and negative comments about him, Atticus empathizes with her by telling his son,

Jem, she’s old and ill. You can’t hold her responsible for what she says and does. Of course, I’d rather she’d have said it to me than to either of you, but we can’t always have our ‘druthers.

Atticus has empathy for Mrs. Dubose because he knows that she is battling a chronic illness and addicted to morphine. Instead of judging Mrs. Dubose and taking offense to her unflattering comments, Atticus forgives her and instructs his son to apologize for his actions.

Atticus also exercises empathy towards Mr. Cunningham following their intense showdown outside of the Maycomb jailhouse. Atticus does not judge Mr. Cunningham for leading a lynch mob and putting his family in danger. He empathizes with Mr. Cunningham's situation and acknowledges that he was affected by mob mentality. Atticus proceeds to tell his children,

Mr. Cunningham’s basically a good man … he just has his blind spots along with the rest of us.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles


The Ewells.  After Bob Ewell spits in Atticus's face and threatens to get even with him, Atticus explains that it's one of those moments when Jem needs to step into Bob's skin to understand his motives better. Atticus is happy to have served as a human spittoon for Bob if it meant protecting the Ewell children from their father.

"So if spitting in my face and threatening me saved Mayella Ewell one extra beating, that's something I'll gladly take. He had to take it out on somebody, and I'd rather it be me than that household of children out there."  (Chapter 23)

Maycomb's African American citizens.  There are many examples of Atticus showing empathy toward the town's African American population, perhaps none better than the day after the trial. When Atticus awakes, he finds his kitchen table covered with "enough food to bury the family." It has come from the friends of Tom Robinson, showing their appreciation for Atticus's staunch defense. But Atticus realizes that such a display is a financial hardship for Tom's poor friends.

Atticus's eyes filled with tears. He did not speak for a moment. "Tell them I'm very grateful," he said. "Tell them--tell them they must never do it again. Times are too hard...."  (Chapter 22)

Cheating a Black Man.  To Atticus, cheating a black man is the worst thing a white man can do.

"There's nothing more sickening to me than a low-grade white man who'll take advantage of a Negro's ignorance...whenever a white man does that to a black man...the white man is trash." (Chapter 23)

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