What life lessons were taught to Scout by Miss Maudie in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Miss Maudie teaches the children several life lessons: To show sympathy and consideration for others, to exercise moderation, to be humble and satisfied with what one has, and to not tolerate hypocrisy.

Moderation and sympathy:

While sitting with Miss Maudie on her porch one evening, Scout asks her neighbor if Boo Radley is still alive. Miss Maudie says that he is; however, he remains inside. When Scout asks her why Boo does not wish to go outside, Miss Maudie replies,"Wouldn't you stay in the house if you didn't want to come out?" (Ch.5) Then, she tries to explain to Scout how intractable Mr. Radley was because of being a "foot-washing Baptist"; that is, he believed that "anything that's pleasure is a sin"(Ch.5). Miss Maudie explains that the Bible in the hand of an intractable man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of a good, stable man. That is, Mr. Radley's punishment of Arthur when he was a teenager was excessive, affecting Arthur's isolated life. Miss Maudie implies that a more moderate punishment would have been better for Arthur.

Consideration for others:

When a rare snow comes to Maycomb, Miss Maudie allows the children to gather some of her snow to make a snowman. But when she notices that Jem has taken her hat, she calls to him to return it. Later, Jem and Scout hear Atticus talking with Miss Maudie after he has scolded Jem for making a caricature of Mr. Avery. The children hear Miss Maudie say," . . . erected an absolute morphodite in that yard—Atticus, you'll never raise 'em!" (Ch.8) She teases Atticus but agrees with his having told the children that they cannot make imitations of the neighbors.

Strength and courage:

After her house burns to the ground, Miss Maudie is courageous and strong, and she teaches the children by example to not be materialistic. When Scout asks her, "You ain't grievin', Miss Maudie?" she answers, "Grieving child? Why, I hated that old cow barn. Thought of settin' fire to it a hundred times myself, except they'd lock me up" (Ch.8). She does not mourn the loss of her possessions as many a person would, nor does she feel sorry for herself. Instead, she speaks of a new garden that she will have. She also expresses her sorrow for all "the danger and commotion" the fire has caused the neighbors.

Counteracting hypocrisy:

After the trial of Tom Robinson, Scout's Aunt Alexandra holds a tea at Atticus's house. Mrs. Merriweather, a sanctimonious hypocrite who attends the Maycomb Methodist Episcopal Church South, praises the Reverend J. Grimes Everett, a missionary in Africa, for the work that he does. Shortly after her compliments to the minister, however, Mrs. Merriweather complains about the black people in Maycomb. She describes her maid as "a sulky darky" who does not act like a Christian lately because she grumbles about the verdict of the Tom Robinson trial. Then, Mrs. Merriweather derogates Atticus in his own house as she speaks to one of her friends named Gertrude,

"I tell you there are some good but misguided people in this town. Good, but misguided . . . who think they're doing right . . . a while back, but all they did was stir 'em up. That's all they did. . . " (Ch. 24)

When Miss Maudie hears these words of Mrs. Merriweather's, she sarcastically asks Mrs. Merriweather, "His [Atticus's] food doesn't stick going down, does it?" (Ch.24) Mrs. Merriweather pretends that she does not understand what is being asked of her. However, Aunt Alexandra has also heard this question, and she gives Miss Maudie a look of "pure gratitude" for the attack on Mrs. Merriweather's hypocrisy since Mrs. Merriweather has praised Reverend Everett, but disparaged Mr. Atticus Finch in whose house she is eating and drinking tea.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is Miss Maudie Atkinson who first explains to Scout about Atticus's belief that it's a "sin to kill a mockingbird." Maudie explains that mockingbirds do no harm to humans or their crops; instead, they are put on this earth to "sing their hearts out for us." Mockingbirds are small and innocent beings, and by the end of the novel, Scout recognizes that life provides tragic examples of human mockingbirds (Boo Radley and Tom Robinson), too.

Maudie is probably the most independent woman in the novel, and she is presented in a positive light by Scout, who considers her neighbor "our friend." Maudie is less of a gossip than Miss Stephanie and Miss Rachel, and Scout recognizes that most of the advice she receives from Miss Maudie comes from experience and not from second-hand neighborhood speculation. Maudie treats Jem and Scout as equals, never condescending to them and always addressing them by their proper names. Scout learns that Maudie is both Atticus's friend and supporter, and Maudie is quick to defend Atticus after the trial. Scout feels comfortable sitting with her older friend on Maudie's front porch, and when Maudie's house burns down, Scout is puzzled at how Maudie almost gleefully accepts the news, promising to build a smaller house so she will have more room for another garden. Scout seems to understand that Maudie (a widow) needs no man to lean on, and her quirky and independent nature blends perfectly with her love of the outdoors. The children have "considerable faith" in Miss Maudie, who

... after her five o'clock bath... would appear on the porch and reign over the street in magisterial beauty.  (Chapter 5)

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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