Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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What does To Kill a Mockingbird teach us about how we learn what is "right" and "wrong"?

The main message of To Kill a Mockingbird is that one should judge people on their actions, not their appearance. The town of Maycomb is rife with prejudice against superficial differences such as race and class. In criticizing this prejudice, Harper Lee wants the reader to understand that there's a better way of evaluating people.

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This book teaches us that our experiences and the people around us shape our growing concept of right and wrong. 

We are shaped by our environment.  This means that the people in our lives and the events we experience turn us into who we are.  Scout, Jem, and Dill had a different exposure to racism than others in Maycomb because of the people in their lives.  Atticus taught his children to respect all people, and practiced what he preached during the trial by defending Tom Robinson.

Atticus corrects Scout when she uses the N-word.

“Do all lawyers defend n-Negroes, Atticus?”

“Of course they do, Scout.”

“Then why did Cecil say you defended niggers? He made it sound like you were runnin‘ a still.”

Atticus sighed. “I’m simply defending a Negro … (Ch. 2)

Atticus also teaches her to treat people of lower classes, like Walter Cunningham, with dignity and respect.  Scout is still trying to understand the way the world works and the social hierarchy of Maycomb.  When children are taught to treat people well, they will.  Racism is learned.

A good example of Atticus’s example taking hold is Jem’s reaction to the trial.  He is absolutely convinced that the rule of law will win out.  Dill is disgusted by the prosecution’s treatment of Tom Robinson, but Jem remains hopeful.  He thinks that Atticus proved that Robinson was innocent and the jury should understand that.

The treatment of Boo Radley is another example of children learning right and wrong from the people around them.  They hear gossip from Stephanie Crawford, but Atticus asks them to leave him alone.  They go from being afraid of him and telling stories about him to seeing him as an actual person.

Scout and Jem learn that people are not always what they seem, and that you have to see the world from another person's point of view to really get along with a person.  They learn these lessons through both example and teaching.


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What is the main message of the book To Kill a Mockingbird?

To Kill a Mockingbird is full of many very important messages. But if we had to choose only one, it would be the importance of judging people based on their actions rather than their appearance.

Sadly, this important moral lesson is lost on the vast majority of Maycomb's residents. Most of them are deeply mired in one form of prejudice or another, whether it's racial prejudice against African Americans or class prejudice against those deemed to be “white trash” or from the wrong side of the tracks. For the most part, the people in this neck of the woods are shallow and are quick to judge others on the basis of superficial characteristics.

What's even worse is that hardly anyone in Maycomb demonstrates any willingness to change their prejudiced outlooks, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Take the example of Tom Robinson. Because he's a Black man accused of raping a white woman, virtually everyone in town automatically assumes that he's guilty. But even when...

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the facts come out in court, even when it's patently obvious that he's completely innocent of all charges, the jury votes to convict him.

The citizens of Maycomb—the white citizens, at any rate—are not prepared to accept the possibility that Tom might be innocent. All they see is a Black man, with all the negative connotations they've come to associate with that particular fact. This shows the corrosive effects of prejudice, and how it can lead to the perpetration of great injustice and evil in society. For the reader, this sad reality hammers home the message of looking past appearances and prejudices to judge people based on who they actually are and what they actually do.

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What does the book To Kill A Mockingbird teach us?

To Kill A Mockingbird is a novel less about racial justice than about what makes an exemplary human being. Atticus Finch is that human, especially as seen through the eyes of his daughter. Through him, we learn the importance of integrity.

Attributes that make Atticus an example of the finest kind of person include the following:

He has the integrity to the do the right thing. He defends Tom Robinson even though he knows from the start that it is a losing battle. He does so fearlessly even when he and his children are threatened with bodily harm. He refuses to be intimidated.

He is modest. For example, he doesn't show off the fact that he is an expert marksman. He only uses the skill when it can serve the greater good.

He is a kind but firm and sensible father to his children. He pays attention to them, offers them wise guidance, and cares about them.

He tries to see the good in people despite their flaws and teaches his children, through he example of Mrs. Dubose, to do the same.

This is just a start: there are many more way Atticus is admirable.

Racial justice is an important theme, but overall it serves as an example of the importance of doing the right and living with integrity, even if doing so risks the well being of your family.

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What does the book To Kill A Mockingbird teach us?

The heroic character of Atticus is intended to serve as a model and an inspiration to the reader, just as he was to his children, and especially to Scout. Atticus is a model of courage, of tolerance, of justice, and is also a model father. He takes on the legal defense of a black man who is falsely accused of a violent crime. Atticus shows patience, wisdom, and strength even when he is defeated because of the racial prejudice of an all-white jury. The story of To Kill a Mockingbird also teaches us about what the Deep South was like during the Great Depression. The South has changed somewhat since then, but there is still a lot of racial prejudice. The injustice suffered by Tom Robinson conveys a lesson that everyone should receive equal treatment under the law.

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What does To Kill a Mockingbird tell us about the world?

Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird teaches us many lessons about life and the world in which we live.

Two of the hardest truths of the world demonstrated in the novel are: life is not always fair and justice does not always prevail. These lessons are illustrated by the tragic life and death of Tom Robinson. After being wrongfully accused of rape, Tom is found guilty of a crime he did not commit. He is convicted solely because he is Black and his accuser and the jurors are all white. Atticus plans to appeal the verdict, but Tom is shot and killed by police officers while attempting to escape from prison.

The novel also teaches us, through Jem and Scout, not to judge a book by its cover or believe gossip and rumors. Young and naïve, Jem and Scout are initially quick to believe the Maycomb town gossip about their reclusive and mysterious neighbor, Boo Radley. According to rumors, Boo is insane, violent, and dangerous. We later learn that Boo is kind, gentle, and shy. He leaves presents for Jem and Scout throughout the novel. Near the conclusion of the story, Boo protects Jem and Scout and kills Bob Ewell in defense of the children. He is the exact opposite of everything he was said to be by the townspeople.

Atticus's representation of Tom Robinson, despite the certainty that Tom would be found guilty and the backlash he receives from the people of Maycomb, teaches us the importance of doing what is right and standing up for one's beliefs.

These are just a few of the many valuable lessons about life and the world portrayed in To Kill a Mockingbird.

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