The Best Lessons Of To Kill A Mockingbird By Harper Lee

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As children are growing up and maturing, they learn many lessons about life itself. In the coming of age story, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, the main characters are Jem and Scout Finch. Jem and Scout are both young children living in Maycomb County, Alabama during the 1930s. Their father, Atticus Finch, a lawyer hopelessly defends a black man convicted of raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell. Throughout To Kill A Mockingbird, the children learn many life lessons. Lee shows the best lessons are often learned outside the classroom.

Scout learns that people and events are not often as they seem. The Finch family’s neighbor is Miss Maudie. While Miss Maudie’s house is engulfed in flames, a mysterious person places a blanket on Scout. The placement of the blanket on her shoulders remains unnoticed by Scout. Later that night, Jem tells Scout that Boo Radley is the person that put the blanket on her. “Boo Radley. You were so busy looking at the fire you didn’t know it when he put the blanket around you” (Lee 72). By explaining that Boo Radley allegedly put a blanket on Scout, it contradicts the children’s past beliefs about Boo. At the beginning of To Kill A Mockingbird, Boo is described as having a “long jagged scar that ran across his face; what teeth he had were yellow and rotten; his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time” (Lee 13). This change in the characterization of Boo Radley shows that he is innocent, and not as the children originally thought of him. Another example of the theme, people are not often as they seem, takes place following the discovery of Mrs. Dubose’s death. Atticus reveals to the children that Mrs. Dubose used Morphine to subdue her pain. “‘Mrs. Dubose was a Morphine addict,’ said Atticus. ‘She took it as a pain killer for years’ … ‘Most of the time you were reading to her I doubt she even heard a word you said. Her whole mind and body were concentrated on that alarm clock’” (Lee 111). Mrs. Dubose is depicted as an angry, distasteful, old woman. However, Mrs. Dubose was a Morphine addict– the result of her ‘grossness’. She used Morphine to soothe her pain, a key factor that Jem and Scout remained unaware of. The children were mistaken about her because her appearance differed from her personality. Therefore, the theme, people are not often as they seem, is extremely prevalent in To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

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Another lesson Scout and Jem learn is that empathy is developed by standing in others’ shoes to see the world from that point of view. An example of this theme is when Scout and Jem learn that the aggregation outside of Tom Robinson’s jail cell is human too. By mentioning Mr. Cunningham’s son, Walter, Scout reminds him that he is a father, like Atticus. “‘So it took an eight-year-old child to bring ‘em to their senses, didn’t it?’ said Atticus. ‘That proves something– that a gang of wild animals can be stopped, simply because they’re still human. Hmp, maybe we need a police force of children … you children last night made Walter Cunningham stand in my shoes for a minute. That was enough’” (Lee 157). Scout’s actions outside the jail cause the men to realize what they are doing is wrong. Her actions accidentally stop the mob, and without Scout’s actions, serious injuries could have taken place. Another example of the theme of empathy in To Kill A Mockingbird is Scout’s interpretation of the Ewell family. Atticus explains to Scout, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view–’ ‘Sir?’ ‘–until you climb into his skin and walk around in it” (Lee 30). Revealed in Atticus’ statement, empathy is learned by allowing one to view another person’s perspective. Seen through Lee’s portrayal of empathy in To Kill A Mockingbird, the reader learns that empathy is an important part of growing up and allows one to grow as a person.

A lesson that Scout learns is that racial prejudice can distort one’s judgment. Shown in this example, Mrs. Dubose comments about Atticus and his profession. “Your father’s no better than the n—–s and trash he works for!” (Lee 102). Mrs. Dubose’s language and references show that racial prejudice exists in Maycomb, commonly displayed by adults, sometimes directed toward children. Mrs. Dubose’s judgment of the Finch family has been heavily distorted by Maycomb’s racist views. Another instance of racial prejudice is when Francis tells Scout about Atticus’ job and the impact it has on the rest of the family at Christmas. “If Uncle Atticus lets you run around with stray dogs, that’s his own business, like Grandma says, so it ain’t your fault. I guess it ain’t your fault if Uncle Atticus is a lover besides, but I’m here to tell you it certainly does mortify the rest of the family–” (Lee 83). Francis’ dialogue emphasizes that defending a person of color in Maycomb is considered to ruin one’s social life, etiquette, and reputation. Francis’ use of racist language shows that his judgment has been distorted by racial prejudice. Therefore, racial prejudice distorts people’s judgment without their realization.

The best lessons are often learned by life experience. The lessons taught in To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee are lessons that cannot be learned inside the classroom. The lessons are based upon morality and life itself. Shown in To Kill A Mockingbird, people and events are not often as they seem. As a society, people have learned that personality is based upon appearance. Empathy is developed by standing in others’ shoes to see the world from that point of view, revealing that people must learn empathy to grow as a person. Racial prejudice can distort one’s judgment without their realization. In conclusion, children learn the most meaningful lessons outside the classroom.

Work Cited

  1. Lee, Harper. To Kill A Mockingbird. New York, Warner Books, December 1982.   


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