To Kill a Mockingbird Questions and Answers
by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird book cover
Start Your Free Trial

What is the significance of courage in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird?

Expert Answers info

Tamara K. H. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2010

write3,619 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

In To Kill a Mockingbird, author Harper Lee shows that society's most dominant beliefs are not always correct, and it takes a great deal of courage to challenge society and to move in ways that run against the flow of society.

In the novel, Atticus Finch displays a great deal of courage by accepting Tom Robinson's case and putting his all into Robinson's defense though Atticus dreads the case. Atticus expresses his fear of the case in a private conversation with his brother Jack, in which he says, "You know, I'd hoped to get through life without a case of this kind, but John Taylor pointed at me and said, 'You're It'" (Ch. 9). Atticus's fear of the case stems from the fact that he knows full well that an innocent man is being put on trial for his life based on absolutely zero corroborating evidence; the only evidence being used in the trial are the testimonies of the witnesses, the Ewells. Despite lack of evidence, he also knows losing the case is inevitable because the jury will base its verdict on racial prejudices, causing him to dread the outcome of the case.

Yet, Atticus's reasons for putting his all into the case go far beyond the fact that Judge Taylor commanded him to take the case. Atticus feels it is his moral imperative to give Robinson the best defense he can, despite the inevitability of losing the case. As Atticus further explains to Jack, Atticus would be unable to "face [his] children" if he did not take the case (Ch. 9).

Atticus is showing great courage in acting upon his moral imperative in the face of the town's ridicule. All of Maycomb has already judged Robinson to be guilty based simply on the color of his skin, as Scout informs her father at one point:

Atticus, you must be wrong ... Well, most folks seem to think they're right and you're wrong ... (Ch. 11)

But Atticus knows there is absolutely zero evidence pointing to Robinson's guilt, so he continues to act as his conscience tells him to act, which contradicts the rest of society's actions.

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial