In To Kill a Mockingbird, what does Atticus say is the worst thing you can do?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To Kill a Mockingbird traces the attempts of Atticus Finch to raise his children to be good citizens at a time when blatant racism surrounds them. Atticus is recognized as a good upstanding citizen and the best person to defend the innocent Tom Robinson. Atticus knows he has little hope of winning the case due to the bigotry of the townspeople but his moral code ensures he will do the best job he can. He is aware of his privileged position and tries to teach his children fairness and to see beyond people's "blind spots." He looks for the best in everyone and everything and even reminds the children that "it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird." Mockingbirds do not damage property as other birds may do. All that they do is "sing their hearts out." 

The use of the mockingbird symbol in To Kill a Mockingbird reveals how unjust and judgmental people can be. Tom, whose only 'crime' is that of being black, thought to show compassion for another person (Mayella). Just as people kill mockingbirds as indiscriminately as they shoot blue jays because they are uninformed, it is Tom's ignorance of the intolerance of others that causes this impossible situation to develop. Atticus reminds Scout that judging others is wrong and that a person should "climb into his skin and walk around in it" to get a better perspective. Whilst Atticus wants Scout to understand that she should not judge others, Scout, as the narrator, reminds the reader that Atticus says, "cheatin' a colored man is ten times worse than cheatin' a white man" and that it's "the worst thing you can do." It highlights the injustices in the town and serves to contradict the belief of the townspeople that Tom Robinson, as a black man, does not deserve the same treatment as they would do. 

lhc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter 20 of To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus is quoted by his daughter:   "Atticus says cheatin' a colored man is ten times worse than cheatin' a white man," I muttered. "Says it's the worst thing you can do."  Atticus's reasoning for this belief was rooted in his honesty, integrity, and sense of common decency.  He knew as well as anyone in Maycomb that cheating a black man was so easy it was ridiculous; most blacks were illiterate, and wouldn't realize it if they were being cheated; even if he or she did realize a white person was cheating him or her, the black person in the South in the 1930's had absolutely no recourse available because he or she essentially had no rights at all. 

alexb2 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Check out a related answer in the link below. 

rachellopez | Student

Atticus said the worst thing you could do was cheat a colored man. His daughter quoted him by saying "cheatin' a colored man is ten times worse than cheatin' a white man". Since in the book he was defending Tom Robinson, it was seen as horrible and he was looked down on by everyone. However, he knew that the way African Americans were being treated was wrong and he believed whites and blacks should be equal. They had no rights and no ability to defend themselves. He also tried to raise his children with this idea.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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