What are some examples of courage from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the most significant themes in To Kill a Mockingbird is courage, and Harper Lee uses many of the characters and circumstances in her novel to demonstrate all facets of courage.

There is a physical courage which is demonstrated by Atticus standing in the middle of the street, facing off with a rabid dog armed only with a shotgun. This is an especially impressive feat to his children, of course, but Atticus now has to work extra hard to show them that there are other, more important kinds of courage.

The incident Jem has with Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose demonstrates another kind of courage. Here is an old woman who, we discover, is addicted to morphine. She is cantankerous, rude, and prejudiced; however, she also has a kind of inner strength which enables her to kick a long-time addiction in order to die free. Atticus tells Jem:

I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. 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.

This is timely advice because of the upcoming trial. 

Atticus, of course, demonstrates all kinds of courage. Miss Maudie tells Scout that the town is cowardly because it lets Atticus do the "dirty work" of standing up for what is right when they either do not want to or are unwilling to become a target for their neighbors, friends, or customers.

Atticus does not just go through the motions of representing Tom Robinson at his trial; instead he does what he knows is right: he defends an innocent man. This puts his own life at risk, as well as the lives of his children. He is confronted with a mob at the courthouse, he is spit upon by Bob Ewell, and he risks losing the respect of everyone in town that disagrees with him--including his own sister and her family. Yet he continues.

Miss Maudie shows courage when she refuses to be pressured by the "foot-washin' Baptists" who try to shame her out of growing her flowers. When they shout Bible verses at her, she responds with other Bible verses. She is not intimidated by these bullying tactics, and she courageously confronts them in her own backyard, so to speak.

Boo Radley demonstrates extraordinary courage when he saves the Finch children from being killed by Bob Ewell. Even more, he kills Ewell in the process. There is no doubt that this is a courageous and selfless act.

Even Walter Cunningham's dad demonstrated a rather extraordinary courage in this novel. Although he was kind of the ringleader of the group that came to cause trouble for Tom Robinson at the jail, Atticus placed him on the jury of Tom's trial. The expectation is that this jury will come back with an inevitable guilty verdict; after all, a white woman accused a black man of raping her, so the black man must be guilty.

Instead, Walter Cunningham is the juror who prolongs the verdict long enough to give Atticus some hope. Though Cunningham was unsuccessful in changing his fellow jurors' mind, he was able to hold them off for a time, obviously because he believed Tom was innocent. This simple act gives us all hope that one day things would be more equitable for blacks.

Scout, Jem, and Dill display some moments of courage in their antics with the Radley house, but often those are more bravado-driven than prompted by true courage.

If you need more thoughtful insights and analysis of this classic novel, check out the excellent eNotes sites linked below.

amysor | Student

Throughout the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, all the characters show acts of courage. Atticus shows courage when he is surrounded by the mob who wanted to hurt him. Not once did he show any sign of fear, and to stand up to a mob takes a lot of courage. It takes a lot courage for Boo Radley to finally leave his house despite all the harsh rumors about him. Also, Boo Radley shows courage when he saves Jem and Scout on Halloween night. Jem shows courage when he goes back the the Radley place to get back his pants, his fear was big, he still overcame it and showed courage. Scout showed a lot of courage on the night of the mob, to stand up to a grown man, and to change his view on the actions he was about to take. These are only a few examples of the plently example of courages that the characters show.

rachellopez | Student

One huge example of courage from To Kill a Mockingbird would be Atticus being a lawyer for Tom Robinson. It would be unheard of in this time period for a white man to defend a black man in a trial. Atticus defending Tom put him and his family in danger, but he went through with it because he knew Tom was innocent.

Another example of courage would be Scout, Jim, and Dill walking up to Boo Radley's house. Even with all the rumors they heard about him, they still approached the house. Speaking of Boo, when he saved Scout and Jim, that was an act of courage. There are plenty more throughout the book, but those are just a few,

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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