What are the moral lessons Atticus teaches his children in To Kill a Mockingbird?I have to right an essay about this, and I need four topics and four examples for each. 

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Through both example and counsel, Atticus Finch teaches his children many virtues.

Charity   (Charity is a theological virtue by which people love God above all else and their "neighbor" as themselves out of their love for God.)   

When Scout comes home from her first day of school she does not want to return because she has been offended by her new teacher's remarks both about her and her father. She also feels that she has been unjustly punished and embarrassed in front of her classmates. Then, after listening to his daughter relate how she attempted to help Miss Caroline get to know certain students by explaining their backgrounds and habits, Atticus quickly realizes that the new teacher from Northern Alabama has felt humiliated by a first grader's display of such social expertise.

Atticus explains to Scout that she must return to school because he works every day and no one can teach her at home. He then counsels Scout to be charitable and respectful of Miss Caroline's feelings:

"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view..." (Ch.3)

Later, both during and following the trial of Tom Robinson, Atticus practices the virtue of charity and sets an example for Scout and her brother, Jem. He is kind when he interrogates Mayella, even though he knows that she is perjuring herself. Further, in chapter 22, when Bob Ewell spits on him after the trial, Atticus charitably "turns the other cheek" and does not retaliate against Ewell. 

Atticus's lesson on charity is also extended to Boo Radley. Earlier in the narrative Atticus urges Scout, Jem, and Dill to "stop bothering" Boo Radley.

Social Justice (This virtue is concerned with equal treatment of everyone and the common good.)

In his closing remarks of Tom Robinson's trial, Atticus Finch explicitly speaks of justice under the law and how the equal treatment of every citizen is required in a court of law. By referring to this legal concept of blind justice, he urges the jury to be fair to Tom Robinson in reaching a verdict based solely on the facts of the trial. 

Outside the courtroom, Atticus practices social justice as well. He is respectful of everyone. In chapter 3, for example, when little Walter Cunningham has dinner with the Finches and Scout ridicules his eating habits, Atticus shakes his head in disapproval. Taking her cue from Atticus, Calpurnia pulls Scout into the kitchen where she finishes the remainder of her meal. 

Furthermore, despite the insults hurled at his children and himself, Atticus is polite to Mrs. Dubose because he understands that she is ill. He respects the right of the Radleys to be reclusive, and he treats all others with whom he has contact respectfully. Atticus does not discriminate against anyone, regardless of the person's social status or color.

Fortitude (This virtue is demonstrated in perseverance during difficult and trying situations.)

Atticus Finch instructs his children on this virtue when he has Jem read to the ailing Mrs. Dubose.  She later demonstrates fortitude in her final days because before she dies she withdraws from the morphine to which she has been addicted. Bravely, she chooses to die being "beholden to nothing and nobody." Atticus tells his children that he has wanted them to see "what real courage is."

Atticus himself demonstrates fortitude when he accepts the position of attorney for the defense of Tom Robinson. Knowing the scorn and ridicule that he will receive, Atticus still chooses to do what is right. It is in his speech about Mrs. Dubose that he subtly alludes to his own decision to defend Tom Robinson:

"It's when you know 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." (Ch.11)

Although Atticus Finch is a rather unorthodox parent, he certainly sets a wonderful example for his children as a virtuous man.

lsooy eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Atticus teaches his children responsibility, integrity, moral courage, and empathy.


Atticus is assigned to defend a black man during a time of extreme racial prejudice in the south. Most white lawyers of his day and time would be feel pressure from the white community to refuse to represent or defend a black man, but Atticus knows it is his job to defend Robinson to the best of his abilities and that is what he does.


There is a saying that integrity is doing the right thing when no one is looking. It is said of Atticus that he was “the same in his house as he is on the public streets” and Atticus tells Scout that he “couldn’t go to church and worship God if I didn’t try to help that man [Robinson].”

Moral Courage:

Moral courage means sticking to your convictions. Atticus takes on a fight that he knows he has very little chance of winning because it is the right thing to do. Atticus tells Jem the story of Mrs. Dubose to teach him about the power of moral courage.


By far, one of the greatest lessons for any child to learn is empathy for one’s fellow man/woman. Atticus teaches his children about empathy by getting them to consider how the other person feels. Atticus tells Scout, “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.” Atticus even shows empathy for the Bob Ewell after he spits in his face when he tells Jem to think about how Mr. Ewell must feel “I destroyed his last shred of credibility…The man had to have some kind of comeback, his kind always does.”

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter 3, Atticus teaches Scout the importance of tolerance toward others, particularly Miss Caroline, when he offers the advice that

"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."  (Chapter 3)

In Chapter 5, Atticus stresses the need to respect a person's privacy when he orders the children to leave Boo Radley alone, to

"... stop tormenting that man."  (Chapter 5)

In Chapter 10, he teaches Jem and Scout a lesson in humility when they discover that their father has hidden his secret talent--that of being the finest marksman in Maycomb County. Miss Maudie explains how "People in their right minds never take pride in their talents," and Jem is quick to see that

     "Atticus is a gentleman, just like me!"  (Chapter 10)

Atticus displays how courage is not "a man with a gun in his hand" in Chapter 15 when he stands alone at the jail to protect Tom Robinson from the lynch mob. Scout recognizes the full significance of Atticus's actions later that night when

The full meaning of the night's events hit me and I began crying.  (Chapter 16)

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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