What does Atticus mean when he says, "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 To Kill a Mockingbird?

In To Kill a Mockingbird, when Atticus says, "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," he means that Scout can develop empathy, respect, and understanding for others by considering situations from their perspectives.

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This is one of the most famous and most quoted lines in To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. Atticus speaks these famous words to Scout after her first day of school. Scout has a terrible first day—she starts off "on the wrong foot in every way" with...

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This is one of the most famous and most quoted lines in To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. Atticus speaks these famous words to Scout after her first day of school. Scout has a terrible first day—she starts off "on the wrong foot in every way" with her teacher and ends up being publicly punished in front of her entire class. Scout finds this incredibly unjust, as she feels she did nothing wrong.

Scout clearly wants her father to join her in condemning Miss Caroline, who Scout feels treated her terribly for no reason at all. Instead, Atticus tells Scout to consider things from Miss Caroline's perspective.

This quote introduces the values Atticus espouses throughout the rest of the novel. Atticus is a firm believer in the Golden Rule. Whether it be toward Boo Radley, or Tom Robinson, or even Mayella Ewell, Atticus teaches his children to treat others the way they wish to be treated. Atticus urges Scout and Jem to try to view the world from others' points of view, just as he tells Scout to "walk around" in Miss Caroline's "skin" after her tough first day of school. This philosophy of empathy and grace is one of Atticus Finch's most celebrated traits.

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Scout feels as if she has committed a crime on the first day of school because Miss Caroline discovers that she can read and write. After informing Scout that Atticus should stop teaching her, Miss Caroline says that she will "try to undo the damage." In addition, Scout attempts to intervene on behalf of Walter Cunningham when Miss Caroline offers him lunch money. Scout offers an explanation of why Walter will not accept the money when she says, "Miss Caroline, he’s a Cunningham." Scout only succeeds in frustrating Miss Caroline and is punished as a result.

Later at home, Scout voices her frustrations to Atticus. It is in response to her that Atticus says, "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." Atticus is helping Scout to see things from another person's perspective. In this case, he hopes Scout is able to understand that Miss Caroline is new to Maycomb County and in time, she'll get to understand its inhabitants more effectively.

The words of wisdom Atticus offers Scout apply to many different situations in Scout's life. Most notably, Scout is able to change her perspective concerning Boo Radley. By the end of the story, Scout sees Boo as a kind and generous man, and she treats him respectfully.

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In chapter 3, Scout returns home from a rough first day of school and Atticus gives her an important lesson in perspective that will help Scout better understand people. Atticus then 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." (Lee, 30)

Atticus is essentially encouraging his daughter to look at situations from another perspective. Similar to the idiom "walk a mile in someone else's shoes," Atticus's metaphor of climbing into a person's skin relays the same message of expanding one's perspective by viewing situations from another person's point of view. Interestingly, Atticus's metaphor reflects the dominant theme of race throughout the novel by referring to "skin." Atticus's memorable lesson in perspective plays an important role in Scout's moral development throughout the novel. Scout not only gains perspective but also develops empathy for others by applying this lesson to life. 

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This line is one of the most important quotations in Harper Lee's novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus delivers this bit of superlative advice to Scout after her terrible first day at school. Scout has had to deal with her raw new teacher, Miss Caroline and her ridiculous demands; she has fought with Walter Cunningham Jr.; she is then scolded by Calpurnia after her inadvertent insult to lunch guest, Walter. When she tells Atticus that she would prefer not to go back to school again, he tells her

"... that if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks."

Atticus's statement is simple. By putting yourself in another's place and trying to understand their way of thinking, you will better be able to deal with multiple points of view. Both Jem and Scout take the advice and use it later in the story.

 

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This is plain as day. Atticus has wanted his children to look at life from Boo's perspective, from a black person's perspective, and from their peers' perspectives throughout this story.

What may be confusing here is the idea of climbing around in someone's skin. I think it would be easy to just put someone's shoes on. You would feel that the shoes were a little tight or a little loose. And you then could give the shoes back.

To walk around in someone's skin would mean adopting their life characteristics, the things they are persecuted about, praised for, expected of, and stuck with. You can't just quickly adopt someone's life traits. This would take deep analysis and consideration. Scout only ever gets this when she stands on Boo Radley's porch and imagines what it might have been like to watch her over the years.

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In chapter 3, Scout is dejected after a dismal day at school. After looking forward to going to school, her teacher has turned out to be less promising than Scout had hoped, and Scout has landed herself in trouble with Miss Caroline more than once in her honest efforts to help her teacher understand the Maycomb students. Scout is especially upset that her teacher has forbidden Scout's beloved reading time with Atticus.

In this quote, Atticus tells Scout that she needs to try to understand Miss Caroline's point of view and not to judge her so quickly or harshly. He explains that instead, Scout should try to understand why Miss Caroline has acted as she did and said the things she said. For example, he tells Scout that students could not expect their new teacher to understand all of the "Maycomb ways" in one day and could not hold her accountable for things she could not have known before she began teaching there.

This is a philosophy which guides Atticus in daily life. When the Cunninghams can't pay their debt for legal services, Atticus understands and allows them to pay in other ways, such as hickory nuts. When Tom Robinson's friends fill Atticus's kitchen with food following the trial, he is moved to tears, understanding what a financial sacrifice this is during the economically difficult 1930s. And even when the despicable Bob Ewell threatens him, Atticus explains that Bob has lost a great deal as a result of the trial.

This philosophy of understanding others' views in his daily interactions makes Atticus an empathetic source of guidance for his children.

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Atticus Finch teaches Scout and Jem many very valuable lessons, but none more valuable than the importance of empathy, of putting yourself in someone else's shoes. Scout and Jem are at that age where a rush to judgment is almost second nature. They judge Boo Radley as a creepy boogie-man figure; they judge Mrs. Dubose as an ornery old lady with a vicious tongue. To be fair, most adults in Maycomb share the same prejudices, but not Atticus. That's why he's in a good position to be able to teach the valuable lesson of empathy to his children.

This lesson is particularly valuable in the case of Mrs. Dubose. On the face of it, it would seem that this woman has no redeeming features whatsoever. A bad-tempered, ornery old lady who frequently yells abuse at Scout and Jem whenever they walk past her front porch, Mrs. Dubose isn't exactly someone who invites much in the way of empathy.

However, Atticus insists that Mrs. Dubose is no different from anyone else in that she can only be understood if people walk around in her shoes. Among other things, this means recognizing that Mrs. Dubose has been trying hard to free herself from the vice-like grip of morphine addiction. It's because of her valiant struggles to wean herself off this deadly narcotic that Atticus regards her as the most courageous person he's ever known.

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Following Scout's rough first day of school, she laments about her bad day and Atticus gives her some advice concerning perspective. Atticus begins by telling Scout that he knows a simple trick that will help her get along better with others. Atticus then tells his daughter,

"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." (30)

Atticus is essentially telling Scout that she needs to view situations from other people's perspectives, which will help her understand people better. Atticus's lesson about climbing into another person's skin is similar to the common idiom "walk a mile in someone else's shoes." Scout comprehends this and applies her father's lesson as she matures throughout the novel. Scout attempts to climb into her brother's skin following his trip back to the Radley yard at night to retrieve his pants. She also views the neighborhood from Boo Radley's perspective while she stands on his porch at the end of the novel. 

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout has had a hard time getting adjusted to the challenges of being in school. Her teacher, Miss Caroline, repeatedly misunderstands her good intentions and punishes her: first for being an exceptional reader and then for speaking up on the behalf of Walter Cunningham. The final outburst of the day occurs when Burris Ewell gets scolded by Miss Caroline for coming to school unbathed, which results in Burris unleashing an abusive tirade against the poor woman.

Thus, when Scout comes home complaining about her day and asking her father if she has to keep going to school, Atticus tells her:

[I]f you can 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 thing from his point of view... until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.

This advice--which suggests that Scout be more empathetic and compassionate to those around her and that she should give others the benefit of the doubt--helps her forgive what has occurred at school that day. She realizes that Miss Caroline is a new teacher who is very young and inexperienced with the customs of Maycomb; she could not be held responsible for not knowing any better on her first day of teaching. Scout also realizes that she may not take out her disapproval on Burris or any other child who falls out of the realm of the "common people." 

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In the novel To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee expresses many opinions through the voice of Atticus.  With this expression, Atticus is saying that any reader cannot understand what another person is going through until you see the world through their lens or the way they look at the world.  If you "climb into his skin and walk around in it", you experience what they experience in the same way as they do because you are seeing what is happening through their lens or through their experiences in life which have shaped them into the person they are.  Truly understanding another person is far more difficult than most people believe, and this idea of walking a mile in their shoes or climbing "into his skin" makes you feel with the same feelings they do and understand being the outsider they are. 

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