What two different acts of courage in To Kill a Mockingbird have a single common thread to connect them?  How are the two acts of courage different based on the common thread or how are they similar?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Two different acts of courage are evident in Atticus defending Tom Robinson and in Scout seeing Boo Radley as a human being.  In both settings, Atticus's words to Scout about how to view people becomes the common thread that binds them: "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”  Both events also echo how Atticus defines courage.  Atticus tells Jem that the embodiment of real courage is to go against what the expectations and conventional wisdom is and see what should be: "Real courage is when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” Through both standards of compassionate courage, Scout and Atticus find themselves and their actions inextricably linked.

Scout's acknowledgement of Boo Radley is one that must go against what others say about him.  The children in Maycomb see Boo as a figure, an apparition, and not really a human being.  Boo Radley is the subject of games and folklore such as dining on wild animals.  Boo Radley is also dehumanized in the way that society views him.  He is not known as a human being and not seen as an entire individual.  As the novel progresses, Scout has to go against the current and learn to see Boo Radley as a human being, one who is capable of great depth and care.    It is clear that Scout will not be able to change how the other children view Boo Radley.  However, she learns to see him as a human being, a real individual.  When she learns to see him as "basically good," she embraces Atticus's idea of being able to "really understand a person" when one considers consciousness from their "point of view."  She also understands that while she might not be able to transform the rest of the town, she can still see through the idea of viewing life through Boo Radley's eyes.  Scout's courage embodies the lessons that Atticus has sought to impart in her over the course of the narrative.

Atticus lives out his own words of seeing things through the eyes of another and through perseverance in a goal regardless of consequence.  Atticus's defense of Tom Robinson represents both.  It is clear that Tom Robinson will not get a fair trial. The odds are significantly stacked against him.  Atticus realizes this and does not back down from what he knows is morally right.  Atticus goes against what others in the town say, as evidenced by the harassment he and the kids experience because of his principled stance. Atticus pursues his defense of Tom Robinson because he sees the danger of what happens when a legal system is geared against an individual.  Atticus sees the world through Tom's eyes, and in doing so, his courage is emboldened.  At the same time, Atticus embodies courage because he sees through his endeavor until the end. He knows that he will not be entitled to the fruit of his labor, but sees courage in the need to carry out his duty regardless of outcome. In this, courage is seen in undertaking something, knowing that one is licked before they begin.

The standards that Atticus defines as courageous behavior for Scout are reached in both his defense of Tom and her empathy for Boo.  Both actions are bound through their empathy and compassion, as well as their steadfast approach to continue regardless of the reactions of other people.

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