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Atticus's empathetic qualities are certainly one of his strongest character traits in Harper Lee's novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus's conscious effort to understand and sensitively consider the feelings of others is not only a fine moral attribute, but it is one of the qualities that makes him a fine father and lawyer. Of all the characters in the novel, Atticus's empathetic nature stands above all others, and this genuinely honest and humanitarian aspect actually works to his disadvantage at times.
One of the early examples Atticus displays is his handling of the senior Walter Cunningham's debt. Knowing Cunningham has no money to pay him, Atticus tells him to let "it be the worst of your worries." Cunningham anonymously leaves his payments,
... a load of stove wood in the back yard. Later a sack of hickory nuts appeared on the back steps. With Christmas came a crate of smilax and holly. That spring we found a crokersack of turnip greens.
Atticus never acknowledges the receipt of payment, knowing it would embarrass the poor but honest Cunningham. (In the film version, this scene is emphasized more strongly, when Scout calls Atticus out to meet Cunningham; both men are uneasy about the meeting, and Atticus later explains to Scout that it would have been better to have let him leave his goods without an announcement of his presence.)
Atticus's oft repeated advice to "climb into his skin and walk around in it" is first offered to Scout concerning her understanding of Miss Caroline's actions on the first day of school.
... We could not expect her to learn all of Maycomb's ways in one day, and we could not hold her responsible when she knew no better.
Perhaps most importantly was Atticus's unselfish decision to defend Tom Robinson, knowing it would cause his family problems from many indignant white citizens of Maycomb. Atticus explains to Scout that "if I didn't I couldn't hold my head up in town." He later tells his brother, Jack, "... do you think I could face my children otherwise?"
Atticus even tries to understand Bob Ewell after being spit upon.
"Jem, see if you can stand in Bob Ewell's shoes a minute. I destroyed his last shred of credibility... So, if spitting in my face and threatening me saved Mayella Ewell one beating, that's something I'll gladly take."
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