What are the life lessons one can learn in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, is a novel which can teach many life lessons. Calpurnia, Miss Maudie, and Link Deas are all givers of wisdom, and one could learn many things just by talking to them. The primary character who shares lessons for life, though, is Atticus Finch. His daughter, Jean Louis (Scout), is the one to whom most of his lessons are directed, and through her experiences we process what Atticus tells her throughout the story.

One of the primary lessons Atticus wants his children, and particularly Scout, to learn is that everyone has a story. 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."

He hopes Scout will learn not to be so critical and condemning of others, especially those who are different from her. This is a life lesson which stands the test of time and is something all of us would do well to remember. 

A second life lesson is directed at Jem, who is often disdainful of his scholarly, justice-minded, peace-loving father. Atticus says:

"Courage is not a man with a gun in his hand. It's knowing you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do."


This definition of courage is even more powerful because it Jem experiences this lesson in his dealings with Mrs. Henry Lafayette DuBose. It is also effective because Atticus is actually an expert marksman, though he only uses a gun when necessary.

Finally, Atticus explains an important principle to his children. When he gives them guns, he reminds them that they can shoot many things, but it is a sin for them to kill a mockingbird. 

"Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy... but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."

We come to understand that Tom Robinson, as a black man in the South, and Boo Radley, their reclusive and helpful neighbor, are kinds of mockingbirds. They do nothing but try to help people, and they should not be punished for their kind hearts. 

Atticus is a wise man who shares his wisdom with his children; the readers are fortunate enough to be able to listen and learn, as well. 


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To Kill a Mockingbird

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