Why is compassion important and relevant to us and the characters of To Kill a Mockingbird?

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Just as compassion is an important ingredient of the human psyche, so it is to the creation of Harper Lee's characters in her novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.
The philosopher Confucius considered it one of the most important parts of the human makeup:

"Wisdom, compassion and courage are three universally recognized moral qualities of men."

It was certainly one of the most important character traits of the Finch family. Atticus repeatedly shows that it is an essential part of his character in his dealings with his children, neighbors, and the black citizens of Maycomb, who show their devotion with the outpouring of food following his defense of Tom Robinson. Atticus drills this aspect home to both of his children: Scout is taught to show understanding toward needy classmates such as Walter Cunningham, while Jem shows a kindhearted side during his time with the desperately ill Mrs. Dubose.
Compassion and its repercussions is a continuing theme of the novel. Tom Robinson's troubles begins when he tries to help Mayella Ewell. Boo displays his tender side in secrecy to the Finch children on several occasions (mending Jem's pants and giving warmth to Scout on the night of the fire). Dolphus Raymond, a white man who prefers the company of Negroes, comforts Dill's stomach with Coca Cola. Miss Maudie pretends to be hard, but her humanity is obvious when she rewards the kids with cake and defends the black citizenry during the missionary circle.
In the end, Boo retreats from his fortress of solitude to save Jem and Scout; Sheriff Tate refuses to consider a murder charge against Jem or Boo out of pity for the effect it will have on their future; Scout puts away her fears when she escorts Boo hand-in-hand back to the dreaded Radley place; and, finally, Atticus tucks in Scout before heading to Jem's room to cast a watchful eye over his son for the rest of the night.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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