What does To Kill a Mockingbird teach us about how we learn what is "right" and "wrong"?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This book teaches us that our experiences and the people around us shape our growing concept of right and wrong. 

We are shaped by our environment.  This means that the people in our lives and the events we experience turn us into who we are.  Scout, Jem, and Dill had a different exposure to racism than others in Maycomb because of the people in their lives.  Atticus taught his children to respect all people, and practiced what he preached during the trial by defending Tom Robinson.

Atticus corrects Scout when she uses the N-word.

“Do all lawyers defend n-Negroes, Atticus?”

“Of course they do, Scout.”

“Then why did Cecil say you defended niggers? He made it sound like you were runnin‘ a still.”

Atticus sighed. “I’m simply defending a Negro … (Ch. 2)

Atticus also teaches her to treat people of lower classes, like Walter Cunningham, with dignity and respect.  Scout is still trying to understand the way the world works and the social hierarchy of Maycomb.  When children are taught to treat people well, they will.  Racism is learned.

A good example of Atticus’s example taking hold is Jem’s reaction to the trial.  He is absolutely convinced that the rule of law will win out.  Dill is disgusted by the prosecution’s treatment of Tom Robinson, but Jem remains hopeful.  He thinks that Atticus proved that Robinson was innocent and the jury should understand that.

The treatment of Boo Radley is another example of children learning right and wrong from the people around them.  They hear gossip from Stephanie Crawford, but Atticus asks them to leave him alone.  They go from being afraid of him and telling stories about him to seeing him as an actual person.

Scout and Jem learn that people are not always what they seem, and that you have to see the world from another person's point of view to really get along with a person.  They learn these lessons through both example and teaching.

 

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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