What are some examples of selflessness in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the narrative of To Kill a Mockingbird, there are demonstrations of selflessness by several characters.

An early instance of concentrating more on the welfare of others than on oneself involves Calpurnia. One day Jem tells Calpurnia that a dog appears to have something wrong with it, observing, "He's gone lopsided." Calpurnia looks where Jem has pointed. Then she grabs the children by the shoulders and hurries them home. She calls Miss Eula May, the telephone operator, and asks her to contact Miss Rachel, Miss Crawford, and the others on Atticus's street, informing them that there is a mad dog. Further, Calpurnia asks Jem if the Radleys have a phone, but Jem can find no number in the phone directory. Jems says that the Radleys will not come outside, anyway. "I don't care; I'm gonna tell 'em," Calpurnia insists. (Ch. 10) She races down the street to the Radleys' house, risking danger to inform them that a rabid dog is headed their way.

Other instances of altruism are exhibited by Tom Robinson when he helps Mayella Ewell with some tasks such as chopping wood and carrying water so she can water her geraniums. He also breaks apart a chifforobe for her. Unfortunately, Tom's charitableness costs him dearly, as it leads to the trial that ends up costing him his life.

Still another act of selflessness comes from Mr. Dolphus Raymond. When the children leave the courthouse because Dill is upset by Mr. Gilmer's harsh questioning of Tom Robinson, Mr. Raymond approaches and offers his paper sack with straws in it. "Take a good sip, it'll quieten you," he tells Dill. While he drinks, Dill realizes that nothing but Coca-Cola is in the bag. Mr. Raymond laughs as he extends his confidence to the children. He consoles Dill and explains to Scout and Jem why he pretends to drink.

"I try to give 'em a reason, you see. It helps folks if they can latch onto a reason. When I come to town...if I weave a little and drink out of this sack, folks can say Dolphus Raymond's in the clutches of whiskey—that's why he won't change his ways...." (Ch. 20)

Mr. Raymond explains that people should cry about "the simple hell people give other people...without even stopping to think that they're people, too." (Ch. 20) Unlike these people, Mr. Raymond is charitable and thinks of others.

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are several examples of selfless behavior throughout the novel To Kill a Mockingbird. The most notable example being Atticus' decision to selflessly defend Tom Robinson in front of a prejudiced community. Despite the impossible odds, Atticus takes the challenge head on and risks his reputation, and also puts his family in harms way, by choosing to defend an innocent black man. Another example takes place in Chapter 3, when Little Chuck Little stands up to Burris Ewell and selflessly defends Miss Caroline's character in front of the class. Despite his small stature, Chuck Little does not waver when Burris Ewell looks towards him and even threatens Burris by putting his hand into his pocket, indicating that he is carrying a blade. At the end of the novel, Boo Radley risks his life by defending Jem and Scout while Bob Ewell is attacking them. Bob Ewell was armed, and Boo Radley left the safety of his home to wrestle Bob away from the children to save their lives. His selfless act prevented Bob Ewell from possibly murdering Jem and Scout, and Atticus is eternally grateful.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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