Examples of Morality in "To Kill a Mockingbird"
Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "To Kill a Mockingbird," published in 1960, addresses moral issues. The narrator and primary protagonist, Scout Finch, and her father, Atticus, and brother, Jem, navigate difficult waters in their racially divided, prejudiced community in Alabama when Atticus defends a black man wrongly accused of rape. Lee uses situations throughout the book to force readers to examine moral issues and discern right from wrong.
Fairness, Justice and Equality
The novel deals with moral values, such as fairness, justice and equality. Atticus courageously defends Tom Robinson, accused of raping a white woman, because he knows Robinson is innocent. Robinson deserves a fair trial and Atticus provides unbiased representation, without allowing his community's prejudices and racial stereotypes to affect his defense. Atticus represents the good side of human nature -- the ability to see people for who they are, regardless of their skin color or socioeconomic status.
Kindness and Respect
Lee uses pivotal characters to help readers understand the importance of kindness and respect -- treating others the way you want to be treated. For example, Calpurnia -- Scout and Jem's black cook and partial caretaker -- is a strict disciplinarian but also shows love and affection to the children. Link Deas, Robinson's white employer, praises him for his strong work ethic and integrity, despite pressure from society to do otherwise.
Miss Maudie Atkinson, a neighbor and young widow, supports Atticus' defense of Robinson and patiently helps Scout and Jem work through their fears and frustrations. She teaches them that it's morally wrong to kill a mockingbird -- a strong parallel to Robinson's trial and the unfair treatment of Boo Radley, a neighborhood recluse -- according to The Glencoe Literature Library. Atticus teaches his children that you can never understand what someone's facing until you've walked in their shoes.
Honesty: Avoiding False Judgment
A majority of residents in the Finches' fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, judge people falsely. Lee wants readers to see the importance of truth and honesty. For example, the jury finds Robinson guilty -- not because there's enough evidence to support the accusations -- but because they falsely assume Robinson is lying. They side with the white victim, even though she's dishonest. Residents ostracize and humiliate Radley, and gossip about his past. Moral characters, such as Atticus and Miss Atkinson, and eventually Scout and Jem, stand up for truth and honesty even when citizens of Maycomb treat them poorly for doing so, suggests the School of Graduate Studies at East Tennessee State University.
Compassion and Devotion
The story addresses the moral values of compassion and devotion. A turning point in the story occurs when Atticus courageously and humanely shoots a rabid dog that threatens the safety of his children and other residents in Maycomb. The children realize that their father is brave, compassionate and committed to doing what's right, according to Kirkus Reviews. They no longer question his decision to defend Robinson. During the climax, Boo proves his compassion and devotion by bravely rescuing Scout, without regard for his own life. Lee wants readers to understand that compassion, self-sacrifice and loyalty are more important than popularity.
- Blue Valley School District: "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee -- Approved for Use in Communication Arts, Grade 8
- The Glencoe Literature Library: Study Guide for "To Kill a Mockingbird"
- East Tennessee State University -- School of Graduate Studies: Don't Put Your Shoes on the Bed -- A Moral Analysis of To Kill a Mockingbird
- Publishers Weekly: "To Kill a Mockingbird"
- Kirkus Reviews: "To Kill a Mockingbird"
- "To Kill a Mockingbird"; Harper Lee; 1960
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.