Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, how does Scout learn that the real world is not like life on her street?

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Scout learns that “real life” is different from the quiet life she experiences on her sleepy street in Maycomb.  As the novel unfolds, Scout learns that the world isn’t fair.  It’s full of bigotry, hatred, and intolerance.  

It’s important for readers to remember that Scout is a young girl.  During the novel, she is between six and nine years old.  Her “world” is mainly her family, which consists of Jem and Atticus.  Calpurnia isn’t a blood relation, but Scout treats her like a family member because that is how Atticus treats her.  Atticus and Calpurnia teach tolerance and acceptance within the household.  Atticus further teaches Scout lessons about how to treat other people when he illustrates his point by telling Scout to imagine herself in the other person’s situation.  

“First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—”


“—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

There are times in the novel when Scout gets to put this lesson into practice.  For example, in chapter 12, Scout attends church with Calpurnia.  The service is an eye-opening experience for Scout because she is able to experience other perspectives on what it's like to live in Maycomb.  She also witnesses the love and charity that exists in this particular congregation as well.  

Unfortunately, the “real world” that exists outside of the Finch household doesn’t exhibit as much tolerance toward different people.  Through the character of Bob Ewell, Scout learns about racial hatred as well as economic hatred.  Scout almost pays for that lesson with her life.  Had not Boo Radley stopped Ewell’s attack, it is likely that Scout and Jem would not have survived the night.  Of course that is not the first time that Scout sees how intolerance can lead to violence.  During chapter 15, Scout and Jem follow Atticus to the jail, where he is waiting to defuse a lynch mob.  It’s here that Scout learns that even people she thinks are similar to her family are definitely not.  Scout is surprised to see Mr. Cunningham among the mob members.  He eventually comes to his senses, but the evening once again shows Scout that her street and the real world are at times polar opposites.  

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Jem and Scout are somewhat sheltered from the "real world." Atticus is a very accepting man, unlike most of the town, and has taught the children about equality and acceptance. Miss Maudie approaches life the same way, and the children see through her the importance of not judging others. However, this attitude is not apparent in the rest of the town, where prejudice (specifically racism) abounds. The children are also sheltered from man of life's others corruptions, just has hatred. However, as the children see in the courtroom, and as they experience in town on the night of the mob, the real world is full of hatred, judgment, and intolerance. Scout specifically battles the "real world" when her cousin and classmates are calling Atticus names that, though she doesn't know exactly what they mean, are said in an insulting tone. Atticus protects his children from this awareness as long as he can (for example, he doesn't want them in the courtroom, but they sneak in anyway), but he can't sheltered them forever. He does use these experiences to teach the children a better way to act and view others.

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