A look at Courage in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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In many ways, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is a novel about courage. At the very least, courage is one of the central themes. Nearly every individual displays in some way or another. In some cases, the characters are so courageous as to be almost unbelievable. However, any person who is familiar with the time period in which To Kill a Mockingbird is set will know that the type of bravery portrayed in To Kill a Mockingbird was necessary in the U.S. at the time. Therefore, it was relatively commonplace, though not nearly enough. Here are just a few examples of courage in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.


There are three children in To Kill a Mockingbird who can certainly be considered brave. They are Jem and Scout Finch and Dill Harris. Jem and Scout bravely defend their father while he goes against the wishes of nearly every citizen in Maycomb (the small southern town in which the novel is set). There are many other examples of their bravery throughout the book, but their defense of their father is a common theme. Dill is a wayward boy who likes to make up stories to make himself look grander and who has a very confusing home life. His courage comes from that very act. Sure, lying is not the most moral thing to do. However, Dill does it to keep his head above the water in order to be happier than he might be without his grandiose dreams and stories. His courage is that which he needs to live his life.

One of the most courageous and respectable characters in To Kill a Mockingbird is Atticus Finch, Jem and Scout's father. Atticus is a lawyer who is defending a black man accused of raping a young Maycomb woman. His client did not do it, and Atticus seems to know it. He is determined to seek justice to the best of his ability, despite the fact that he is being targeted for his anti-racist views. Atticus Finch is one of the most courageous characters in the history of fiction.

There are three neighbors of the Finch's who are also very brave, in their own unique ways. They are Boo Radley, Maudie Atkinson and Mrs. Lafayette Dubois. Boo Radley was a recluse; no one was sure why. However, when he was needed by the Finch children, he left his house to help, despite his reasons for hiding in his home literally all the time. Maudie Atkinson displayed her courage by being outspoken, fearless and yet extremely kind. Mrs. Lafayette Dubois was a different kind of courageous. She was cantankerous, rude, bigoted and spiteful. However, it is shown that her attitude had a lot to do with her addiction to morphine, which she struggles painfully to kick during the last days of her life.

Two other brave characters from To Kill a Mockingbird who are worth mentioning are Mayella Ewell and Tom Robinson. Mayella is the young girl who has wrongfully accused Tom of rape. Her actions are unforgivable. However, her character is courageous. She was really being raped by her father and yet she stood strong for her younger siblings, who she was raising. She is both a villain and a hero. Tom is the brave soul who has been forced to accept his fate. His courage lies in his acceptance of the fact that a black man is not going to get a fair trial in Maycomb.

Within these characters lies the rich vein of courage that runs prominently through Harper Lee's only novel, the masterpiece that is To Kill a Mockingbird. Each one of them could have carried a novel of their own. Together, they carry one of the best American novels ever written.

Shelly Barclay


  1. Hear, Hear! I still re-read this occasionally, and have read it to my children although the school system here was aggrieved enough by its honesty to remove it from both their reading list and their shelves long ago. I also found the movie, which did a surprisingly good job of following the book.

  2. This is one of my favorite books of all time. No one will ever beat it as far as moral perspective goes, in my opinion.