What are some quotes and their significance in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are other quotes, less well-known, perhaps, but certainly as significant in To Kill a Mockingbird

  • One of these quotes is that of Atticus, who tells the children about Mrs. Dubose after she dies; he describes her as a true hero, telling the children,

"Courage is not a man with a gun in his hand. It's knowing 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."

  • Ironically, Atticus exemplifies courage himself as he defines it when he agrees to defend Tom Robinson, for he knows that he will probably lose the case before he begins.  However, as he tells his brother before the trial, he must take the case in order to prevent his children from "catching Maycomb's usual disease."
  • After the trial, Atticus's sister is very disappointed with the citizenry of Maycomb, and the "secret courts of men's hearts" that had Tom Robinson condemned before his trial even began. But, Miss Maudie consoles her by telling Alexandra the town does respect Atticus,

"Whether Maycomb knows it or not, we’re paying the highest tribute we can pay a man. We trust him to do right. It’s that simple.”

  • Still another quote that carries much meaning is the poignant comment of Mr. Dolphus Raymond after he witnesses the affect of the trial upon Dill. He tells Jem and Scout that Dill will not cry after being struck by the wrongness of things.  Scout and Jem asks him what he means, and he tells them that Dill will not

“Cry about the simple hell people give other people — without even thinking. Cry about the hell white people give colored folks, without even stopping to think that they’re people, too.”

  • Finally, the quote that ties together the ending narrative with Atticus's beginning admonition to Scout to "walk around" in people's skins and view things from their perspectives in order to understand them is Scout's observations when she stands on the Radley porch in Chapter 31:

Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.

Certainly, the most significant passages of Harper Lee's novel are ones that further the motif of maturation as Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is a bildungsroman. This maturation is achieved from lessons in altruism and understanding of what motivates human beings.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are two very important quotations from this book that relate strongly to its theme, and the first quotation comes from Chapter 10 and gives the novel its title:

“Remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.
“Your father’s right,” she said. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy... but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird."

What is important about the mockingbird is the way that it is introduced in the novel as a symbol of innocence and good that can be destroyed by evil. At various points in the novel connections are made between characters and situations and the mockingbird, such as the decision of Atticus to defend Tom Robinson and when Jem stops Scout killing a bug. The symbol of the mockingbird thus presents the reader with the moral imperative to defend goodness and innocence where it can be found.

The second important quotation is based on the concept of prejudice and how characters judge other people. In Chapter 3, Atticus tells Scout that it is impossible to understand the perspective of somebody else until you walk around in their shoes:

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.

This important bit of advice is something that Scout strives to attain and something she manages to achieve by the end of the novel when she understands the perspective of Boo Radley and is able to express empathy towards him and his position. The novel as a whole is a powerful cry for understanding between different groups that threaten to divide society, and Scout's success at the end of the novel offers the hope of greater mutual understanding which gives the book a more optimisitic ending than some of the events might lead the reader to expect.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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