In Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, the topic of bravery is explored in different ways with different characters. First, the children first view bravery as a thing to be demonstrated by facing terrifying situations and then overcoming them. For example, Dill challenges Jem's manhood by daring him to get Boo Radley to come out of the house. Then Dill modifies the challenge, which requires Jem only to touch Boo Radley's house instead of making the man come outside. Jem fulfills this mission with a quick run through the yard and back, but he does it because he "wanted Dill to know once and for all that he wasn't scared of anything" (14). In this case, bravery is a matter of honor as demonstrated by an act of courage.
However, Atticus shows what calm, cool, and collected bravery looks like when he shoots a mad dog in chapter 10 and saves the neighborhood. As a result, the kids want guns for Christmas, but they are confused when their father won't teach his own kids how to shoot them. The answer to their confusion comes in chapter 11 when Atticus teaches Jem what he believes bravery really is--and that it isn't found using guns. For Atticus, bravery is found in people like Mrs. Dubose who overcomes her addiction to morphine before she dies. Atticus explains as follows:
"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. Mrs. Dubose won, all ninety-eight pounds of her. According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew" (112).
This lesson from Atticus paints a different picture of bravery than what the children think. They discover that bravery is not about proving to others that a scary task can be accomplished; rather, it is facing fears or weaknesses and holding one's self accountable no matter what the outcome.
Finally, another example of bravery demonstrated in the novel is when Aunt Alexandra faces a room full of smug and self-righteous women after finding out that Tom Robinson has died while attempting to escape from prison. Moments before discovering the unfortunate news, these intolerant guests imply that Atticus defending a black man in court hurts the social status quo in Maycomb. It is overwhelming and intimidating for Aunt Alexandra to go back to her guests after discovering that Tom is dead. This fact may cause more problems in the community, and her "friends" might blame Atticus for it. Nevertheless, Aunt Alexandra must keep her head held high in the presence of these intolerant women. She must show them that she is strong, supports her brother's efforts, and is proud to be a Finch. Scout recognizes her aunt's personal resolve and courage by describing how Aunt Alexandra readies herself before facing her guests again:
"Aunt Alexandra rose and smoothed the various whalebone ridges along her hips. She took her handkerchief from her belt and wiped her nose. She patted her hair and said, 'Do I show it?'" (237).
This passage shows Aunt Alexandra preparing herself to be brave in front of the community's gossips. Scout is impressed and decides to follow Aunt Alexandra's example by saying, "After all, if Aunty could be a lady at a time like this, so could I" (237). In this situation, Aunt Alexandra and Scout show social bravery by going back out to their guests and holding their heads high. They could have stayed in the kitchen and cried over the situation, or lost their tempers by yelling at their guests, but they decide to face life with strength--even if that means acting like a lady and not crumbling down into tears like a little girl.