Which three characters in To Kill a Mockingbird initially seem vicious or unpleasant but as the novel progresses and develops, we realise that they are kinder than we thought?
The first character who is initially described as unpleasant and almost animalistic is Arthur 'Boo' Radley. The second could be Mrs Henry Lafayette Dubose, who comes across at first as ferocious. The third could be Aunt Alexandra.
Arthur Radley is described as a 'malevolent phantom' (chapter one) and Scout explains that he was blamed for anything bad that happened in Maycomb. However, as the story progresses we gradually realise that Arthur is actually a victim of prejudice himself and is an innocent and damaged person. He has been treated badly by his father and does not go outdoors (when anyone can see him) and unfortunately because people (some people) don't understand why he lives indoors he is treated as a pariah, and people are fearful of him. When Miss Maudie's house burns down (chapter eight), Arthur comes out of his house and Scout, who is totally preoccupied with watching the burning house, doesn't even realise that is is Arthur who puts a blanket around her. We also recognise that it is Arthur who places small gifts in a hole in a tree, a sweet attempt to contact the children. Towards the end of the novel Arthur saves Scout's life and his transformation from 'malevolent phantom' is complete; he is now a hero.
Mrs Dubose is an example of the pity and empathy that a person must be willing to offer to another person who is in distress. Mrs Dubose initially appears as an absolute nuisance who frightens the children as they walk past her house (chapter eleven). They cower under her 'wrathful gaze' and tells them that they will amount to 'nothing' when they grow up. She is the epitome of a grumpy old lady and Lee describes her as 'vicious'. She makes Jem angry but Atticus says to him 'Easy does it, son...she's an old lady and she's ill'. One day Jem walks past her house and she is not on the porch. He takes the opportunity to behead her camellia bushes. Jem admits it was him and says he did it because Mrs D said that Atticus 'lawed for niggers and trash'. As a punishment he has to read to Mrs Dubose every afternoon for two months. It soon becomes apparent that the only reason Mrs Dubose was so vicious (perhaps she was nasty anyway but not quite so bad) is because she is addicted to morphine and before she dies is trying to wean herself off the drug. This is an extremely difficult task for her and this accounts for the reason she is so nasty. Lee uses this as another example of the importance of empathising with those in our community; trying to put yourself in their shoes and recognise where they're coming from and the reasons they feel the way they do.
Finally - Aunt Alexandra. Scout is not her biggest fan. Aunt Alexandra wants Scout to be the perfect little girl who knows how to bake and arrange flowers and wear dresses. We know that this is the opposite of Scout's character and we can understand why Scout would hate to do these things. Scout is a free spirit and would hate to be restrained by a floral dress. But again, we must question why Alexandra feels this way. Why does she want everything to be so perfect? Perhaps it is because Alexandra is not as secure in herself as she would like to be and for her the idea of not fitting in and the community thinking she is doing something 'not normal' would mortify her. Additionally, Alexandra is particularly prejudiced and really quite nasty. But then we begin to realise that perhaps Alexandra, like Atticus, is simply trying her best. She wants to help Atticus parent his children and she
...wants Scout to become part of the community and not to become someone who is unaccepted, like Boo. By the end of the novel we see that Alexandra is as concerned about Atticus' children as she would be about her own and that she loves them in her own way. In chapter 28 Alexandra has a feeling that something bad is going to happen and Scout notices this. After the children are attacked and then rescued, Alexandra gives Scout overalls to put on instead of her ham costume. She does this as a sign of her love and acceptance of Scout and now the reader is able to understand her motives and recognise that she really isn't all bad.