What are some examples of the coexistence of good and evil in To Kill A Mockingbird?

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Very few people are either wholly good or wholly evil, and the inhabitants of Maycomb are no exception. The moral evaluation of someone as being evil is usually made on the basis of ignorance and prejudice. An obvious example in To Kill a Mockingbird would be Boo Radley . We...

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Very few people are either wholly good or wholly evil, and the inhabitants of Maycomb are no exception. The moral evaluation of someone as being evil is usually made on the basis of ignorance and prejudice. An obvious example in To Kill a Mockingbird would be Boo Radley. We sense that there's more than meets the eye in this strange, demonic figure of legend, but it's only later that we find out just what a gentle soul he really is.

Mrs. Dubose gives the impression of being a vicious, twisted old lady, an unreconstructed racist who spits out fire and fury at the Finch children each time they walk past her front porch. Yet for all her many faults, Mrs. Dubose is a deeply courageous woman, fighting hard to ward off her addiction to morphine.

Walter Cunningham is the leader of a frightening lynch mob that descends upon the jailhouse to mete out summary justice to Tom Robinson. Once again, however, it's Atticus's empathy, his unfailing ability to put himself in someone else's shoes, that helps us to gain a better understanding of another person's character. Walter, like just about every white person in town, is a racist, but he's also a fundamentally proud, decent man who makes his own way in the world, refusing to be anyone's charity case despite being dirt-poor. Scout understands this and, following the example of her father, establishes a connection with Walter Cunningham as a human being. Because of this, she's able to head off a potential lynching.

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There are several examples throughout the novel To Kill a Mockingbird where good and evil coexist.

Inside the Radley home, good and evil coexist. Nathan Radley is Arthur "Boo" Radley's oppressive older brother. Nathan psychologically abuses Boo by not allowing him to leave home and fills their tree with cement to stop Boo from communicating with the Finch children. However, Boo is an innocent, kind individual who truly cares about Jem and Scout. Boo is a morally upright character who risks his life to save the children.

Another example of good and evil coexisting in the novel could apply to the Ewell home. Despite the fact that Bob is an abusive alcoholic, Mayella is a rather sympathetic character who does her best to take care of her siblings. Mayella even values beauty in nature and seeks Tom's friendship. Unfortunately, she makes the terrible decision to accuse Tom of assaulting and raping her after Bob sees her kissing Tom.

Good and evil also coexist at Aunt Alexandra's missionary circle. The local women gather to discuss how they support J. Grimes Everett's mission, but their conversation is full of ignorant prejudice. The women claim to have Christian values yet are prejudiced against other cultures and African Americans.

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Although most characters in To Kill a Mockingbird are clearly on the side of good (Atticus, Miss Maudie) or evil (Bob Ewell), a few are conflicted in their morality:

  • Walter Cunningham, Sr.: once a member of a lynch mob that sought vigilante justice against Tom, Walter, Sr. became a more tolerant and empathetic man by the end of the novel.
  • Mrs. Dubose: once the vitriolic berater of children, Mrs. Dubose showed great courage in battling her morphine addiction
  • Aunt Alexandra: once a champion of Southern Aristocratic debutante values, Aunt Alexandra is more accepting and open-minded once the trial begins and she sees the effects of racism on her family

Even a few institutions are places where good and evil coexist:

  • Scout's school: Miss Fisher tries to teach the class to read while--at the same time--telling Scout she learned to read all wrong.
  • Maycomb County Courthouse: Atticus' closing statement urges equality for all.  Judge Taylor is an honorable man, but the antics of Mr. Gilmer, Mayella and Bob Ewell reveal that no real justice can befit Tom Robinson

 

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One of the best scenes that shows good and evil coexisting almost in the same breath is in chapter 26, when Scout is in third grade with Miss Gates as her teacher. Cecil Jacobs brings an article about Hitler's treatment of Jews in Germany to share during the current events segment of class. Miss Gates teaches the kids the difference between a democracy and a dictatorship, then says that the Jews contribute to society, so Hitler must be out to get them because they are religious. Cecil then says the following:

"Well I don't know for certain . . . they're supposed to change money or sometin', but that ain't no cause to persecute 'em. They're white, ain't they?" (245).

Miss Gates does not reprimand Cecil for his racist remarks. She doesn't draw attention to the fact that they have the same type of evil persecution going on right in their own town. Scout catches on to this, though, and asks Jem about it later:

"Well, coming out of the courthouse that night Miss Gates . . . was talking with Miss Stephanie Crawford. I heard her say it's time somebody taught 'em a lesson, they were gettin' way above themselves, an' the next thing they think they can do is marry us. Jem, how can you hate Hitler so bad an' then turn around and be ugly about folks right at home?" (247).

Scout identifies the good and evil in Miss Gates and in her community. Her teacher sticks up for the Jews and feels bad for how much persecution they are experiencing, and then she makes racist remarks about teaching the black community "a lesson." When good and evil coexist, there is usually some hypocrisy in the mix.

Other examples of good and evil coexisting in the story include how good Tom is to Mayella by helping her when she asks him; but as a reward, she gets him into trouble and repays him with evil lies.

Then, in chapter 11, Mrs. Dubose disrespects Atticus's name to his children by calling him evil names, but he tells Jem to be respectful to her. Atticus even praises her for being a courageous lady after she dies because she kicked her morphine habit. Even when Atticus has every reason to hold a grudge, he doesn't.

One more example of good happening alongside evil is when a friendship forms between Boo Radley and the children. They discover gifts in the knothole of the Radley tree and figure that the hole could be a way to communicate with the mystery man. In chapter 7, though, Mr. Nathan Radley fills up the hole with cement and stops the communication, friendship and fun. Just when something good seems to happen, something bad seems to stop it!

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