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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, how is the idea of honor presented?

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Two different interpretations of honor are presented in the novel through the characters of Atticus and his sister Alexandra. To Alexandra, honor is a matter of family tradition. She believes, for instance, that the Finch family is socially superior in Maycomb County because it is an old family whose members have always achieved and "made a name" for themselves, going all the way back to their ancestor Simon Finch who first established Finch's Landing. Alexandra expects Jem and Scout to live up to their family's honor by behaving in socially acceptable ways; Scout is to be a lady and Jem must be a gentleman, in the Southern tradition. At one point, Atticus tries to explain Alexandra's view to his children, but he has no heart for it and soon gives up the effort.

For Atticus, honor is a matter of personal conscience, moral principles, and decent behavior toward others. He explains to his children that a person's conscience is not a matter of "majority rule," and that ignoring one's conscience negates any moral authority that person might have in the world. Atticus models honor for his children in his everyday life. He defends Tom Robinson, despite the unpopularity of his decision in Maycomb and its consequences, and he makes certain Jem and Scout understand why he has to do it. He explains, in simple words, that if he turned away from his conscience, he could not be a moral example for his children and that he "couldn't go to church and worship God." 


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