Courage is a very prominent feature in the book ‘To kill A Mockingbird’ by the renowned author, Harper Lee. Many of the most prominent characters have courage as one of their main traits. Atticus Finch displays courage to an astonishing degree, as do the children, Jem and his younger sister, Scout. Tom Robinson, Mrs Duboise and Dolphus Raymond also possess courage in different forms. Courage comes in many different forms, most of which are displayed in ‘To Kill A mockingbird’.
Although many of the characters in the book display courage in one form or another, there are also some remarkable displays of lack of courage especially during the trial of Tom Robinson. Tom Robinson is a brave man. He is faced with a near impossible task. He knows there is no way that he would be set free and proved innocent. All the evidence was present and it was all in favour of Tom. No evidence was brought forward providing the Ewells with a case except the testimonies of Bob Ewell, a well known alcoholic and violator of the law and Heck Tate, the local sheriff.
Yet still the jury thought it fit to convict Tom Robinson of the crime. This is such a remarkable lack of courage it leaves the reader astounded. The jury only convicts Tom for fear of going against the community’s wishes. The community is so prejudiced that few people are courageous enough to stand up for what they believe. The jury is not brave enough to do the right thing because of their own personal beliefs and fears. It is one of the few things a jury should never do: to be biased. This jury however, is in the midst of a highly prejudiced community, and therefore it makes it extremely hard to be courageous in any way.
This community is prejudiced about so much they even despise an elderly lady with a medical condition. Mrs Henry Lafayette Dubose is an elderly lady with a severe problem to the extent of which she takes strong, generally impairing prescription doses of morphine, for pain. Mrs. Dubose is, however, considered too ‘contrary’ to die an addict. She therefore makes the decision to ‘leave this world beholden to nothing nor nobody ‘. Mrs. Dubose decided to beat her addiction and was determined to succeed.
She knew it would be hard and at times, almost impossible to crack such an addiction. Yet still, she decided she could do it and all though it was painful and difficult she stayed determined and kept going. Mrs Dubose did beat her addiction and die a ‘free lady’ but at great expense. She died in pain instead of on morphine and subsequently painless. It took great displays of courage to do this. It takes a strong character to undertake what is seemingly, a losing battle but it takes an even stronger person to have the willpower to carry on and succeed.
This determination and presence of mind is also shown in the character of Atticus Finch who commented shortly after Mrs Dubose’s death, at which he was present, that ‘she was the bravest person I knew’. As teacher and mentor to the community as well as father and mother to Jem and Scout, Atticus Finch always stood out from the crowd in terms of vast amounts of courage. Atticus is a mentally strong person who stands up for what he believes. ‘Some men in this world are born to do our unpleasant jobs for us. Your father is one of them’ Miss Maudie among others, has a high respect for Atticus Finch.
Atticus has the courage to attempt to bring up his children by himself against the wishes of most of the family and friends. Atticus teaches the children things which, in many ways would be overlooked by a mother of mother and father. He tries to teach them of respect and dignity. He wants them to learn, by example, what true courage is. ‘ But he was only a man. It takes a woman to do that sort of thing’. There are of course times when he fails as a teacher, such as when he has to teach Jem and Scout, against his beliefs, that they are ladies and gentlemen of high class.
Yet Atticus does not give up, and for the most part, succeeds helped along by his nurse, maid and housekeeper, Calpurnia. As a Negro, Calpurnia has always been put down as under class and not worthy yet Atticus treats her with respect and equality. In doing this he is, effectively, rebuking against common belief. This is dangerous yet he still prevails to do it. He fights for his beliefs and stands by his morals. It takes a courageous man to do that, especially as his views are different to most. Atticus regards her ‘as a member of the family’ and treats her as one.
He stands up for her when Aunt Alexandra asks that she be asked to leave. ‘She has a place in this house as long as she wants it’. It is hard for him to do this in such a prejudiced and racist community. In saying this he evokes much controversy from Aunt Alexandra. She even suggests that Scout should not go to Calpurnia’s house because she would be surrounded in the black community, which would be dangerous especially since there is an alleged rapist preparing for trial. As a lawyer, Atticus Finch is called upon to defend Tom Robinson. This is a huge case, and also pointless one.
There is no evidence to suggest that Tom is guilty but every one knows he will be found guilty and therefore, by taking the case Atticus is fighting a losing battle. Atticus has a very high expectation of himself. ‘ How could I face my children if I did not take this case? ‘ he asks Uncle Jack. Atticus feels that to back out of this hopeless case would be to go against all he has taught his children. He has taught them that everyone deserves an equal chance. He enters this case knowing that it might endanger him and that it would also be lost.
He knows they do not have any real chance ‘ Tom Robinson was a dead man the day Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed’. Atticus feels that he owes it to Helen Robinson and his children and most importantly to himself to try. He knows he will lose yet he has the courage to not let Tom lose with out a fight. In doing this he lets the rest of the community know that you cannot win this case without a fight. He also shows to his children what real courage is. That courage is not ‘a man with a gun’
Jem shows several displays of courage during the book the most prominent being when Bob Ewell attacks him and his sister and when he goes to check Atticus is all right one night before the trial. ‘ I have to go and see if Atticus is all right, Scout. You got to stay here. You hear me, stay here. ‘ Jem both wants to protect his father in anyway he can and protect his sister. He shows courage in the fact that he is only a thirteen-year-old boy, yet he is willing to risk his life for his father. This takes immense strength of character and presence of mind. Jem is like his father- he tries and tries and does not give up.
This also takes courage and determination. Jem protects his sister at all costs. When the children are attacked and on the walk home before he helps Scout. ‘ Let me hold the top of your ham, you might fall’ He has the courage to take his little sister to the play, despite what his peers may think. He does not only not wish for Scout to get hurt, but takes it one step further in trying to protect her. He is willing to get hurt himself provided Scout escapes unscathed. ‘”Run Scout, Run, Run” yelled Jem, as I heard him take a punch at our attacker’ Scout says.
Jem tries to fight this fully grown, drunken man in pitch black on his own, all to save his little sister. That would have taken bravery to the limit. He fights until he cannot fight due to being knocked unconscious and is carried home by their rescuer. Finally Arthur, or rather ‘Boo’, Radley displays courage in that he has not been outside his family home since he was a child, yet he goes out to save the children. This took two kinds of bravery; one, that Boo dived into the fight at all risk to himself and two, that he would be showing his face to the world for the first time in over twenty years.
Boo Radley has stayed in his house amidst comments and crude remarks because he wanted to. This would have been very hard to do when he would have know what people thought of him because he would not leave the house though nothing was stopping him. As I have attempted to display in this essay, courage comes in many forms, not all of which are immediately recognisable. A courageous man or woman, does not have to have a gun or fight, but they have to have a strong personality, courage of conviction and be able to stand up for what they believe.