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Examples of Empathy in "To Kill a Mockingbird"


Published in 1960, "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee focuses on themes of morality and human nature. Lee includes examples of empathy to help readers explore the good side of human nature. Atticus Finch, a compassionate lawyer who defends a black man of crimes he didn't commit; his daughter, Scout; and son, Jem, face difficult circumstances in their prejudiced community. They learn to empathize with those less fortunate. Maudie Atkinson, a kindhearted next-door neighbor, supports the Finch family and helps Scout stand against hateful attitudes in their community.

Atticus and Tom Robinson

Atticus shows empathy toward blacks and the town recluse. He upholds the law and looks out for his clients' best interests, even when it hurts his reputation. His willingness to put himself in others' shoes is most evident when he agrees to defend Tom -- a black man falsely accused rape -- without considering how his actions might affect others, including his family. Atticus identifies with Tom's plight and shows empathy by standing against racial inequalities and prejudices without concern for his own well-being.

Scout, Boo Radley and the Mockingbird

Scout empathizes with Boo -- a long-time town recluse who grew up with a violent father -- after witnessing how unjust and mean-spirited her community is. She views Boo as an innocent mockingbird unfairly judged by town folk who refuse to accept his strange behavior. Scout befriends Boo, and happily accepts the small gifts he leaves for her in a knothole in a tree. Both she and Jem understand why Boo has chosen to withdraw all these years -- he doesn't want to be a part of a cruel, hateful society.

Jem and Atticus

Jem has a strained relationship with his stern, straightforward, unemotional father, but empathizes with him during Tom's trial. Jem identifies with his father's heartache as he tries to prove Tom's innocence, knowing that it's a battle he'll likely lose. He's traumatized by Tom's guilty verdict, but gains immense respect for his dad's dedication and unwavering stance on justice. Jem also empathizes with his father when he watches him kill a rabid dog that others are too afraid to shoot. He proudly states, "Atticus is a gentleman, just like me."

Maudie, Scout and the Black Community

Maudie shows empathy toward Atticus, Scout and blacks in her community. She doesn't let her belittling socialite friends manipulate her views, and she confidently supports Atticus during Tom's trial. After Tom is found guilty, she remarks that Atticus' strong case forced jurors to deliberate for a long time. She speaks kindly of Boo, and encourages Scout not to let others influence her values. Maudie has a passion for justice and uses her influence as a well-respected widow to stand up for equal rights and civil justice.

About the Author

As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.

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