Where in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird are references to the themes of pride or tradition?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Pride vs. humility is a dominant theme found in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. The development of humility is one lesson Scout learns as she matures throughout the book.

One scene in which she begins to understand the value of humility concerns the moment she observes her farther shoot the rabid dog named Tim Johnson. In Chapter 10, the moment Scout, Jem, and Calpurnia realize Tim Johnson is rabid, Calpurnia immediately phones Atticus at his office, who tells her to warn all the neighbors and that he is bringing Sheriff Heck Tate. When Atticus and the sheriff arrive and the dog gets close enough to be shot at, Jem and Scout are astonished to see Tate hand his riffle over to Atticus and beg Atticus to take the shot, warning Atticus that it is a "one-shot job" and that Atticus is the only person in Maycomb County who could successfully make the shot. Jem and Scout are even more astonished as they watch their father perfectly succeed in making the difficult and dangerous shot.

More importantly, while discussing the shot with Miss Maudie, Scout comments that she would think Atticus would be proud of his talent to shoot so well. Yet, Miss Maudie makes a very revelatory statement: "People in their right mind never take pride in their talents" (p. 102). As Miss Maudie further explains, Atticus did not take pride in his God-given talent of marksmanship because he realized it put him at an "unfair advantage over most living things" (p. 101). In other words, Miss Maudie is asserting that people should not take pride in their God-given talents because those talents place them at unfair advantages. Once a virtuous person like Atticus realizes the unfair advantage, such a person is likely to realize that he/she is unworthy of having such an unfair advantage, and the realization of unworthiness is the very definition of humility. Hence, from watching her father display perfect marksmanship and knowing he had kept his abilities a secret all this time, Scout learned that pride is not always a virtue, that humility is far more virtuous than pride.

Later, in Chapter 13, contrary to the above, Scout and Jem are also taught to take pride in their family heritage. Their Aunt Alexander was surprised to learn that Atticus had never taught the children much about their family heritage and to have pride in their family heritage. Therefore, she commands Atticus to inform the children that they are the "product of several generations' gentle breeding" and valuable to Maycomb County (p. 134).

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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