Never Judge a Book by its Cover. A Character Analysis in To Kill a Mockingbird Essay Example


“Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them...As I made my way home, I thought Jem and I would get grown but there wasn’t much else left for us to learn, except possibly algebra” (Lee 321). To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, is a story about Scout Finch, a stubborn girl who cares little about what people have to say. As she is growing up in the southern town of Maycomb, Alabama, she starts to notice things about people she did not see before. She is confused, wondering what has changed about these people she has known for most of her life. She starts to ask bold questions of herself and others. Scout’s questioning and curiosity is influencing her as she is maturing into a young adult. She is beginning to recognize the bigger problems of the small town and how some people are “different” from others. Several adults in her life, Boo Radley, Calpurnia, and Atticus had a profound impact on Scout’s understanding of the world. 

When we first meet Arthur “Boo” Radley, he is perceived by Scout as a monster who goes around peeking in people’s windows at night (hence the name “Boo”). In describing the neighborhood where Jem and Scout live, the author paints a picture of the Radley house as a poorly kept, dark, mysterious place. “Inside the house lived a malevolent phantom. People said he existed, but Jem and I had never seen him” (Lee 9). Supposedly, Arthur got into trouble as a teenager and his father locked him in the house for 15 years. He also stabbed his father in the leg with a pair of scissors, and no one had seen him since. It makes the reader wonder whether Arthur had some type of special needs or was unfortunate enough to have parents who didn’t know how to cope with the escapades of teenaged boys. Rather than grounding him or taking away privileges for running around with his friends, they locked him in a dark house for 15 years. It’s no wonder Scout was afraid of him! Much later in the book, however, Scout’s opinion of Boo Radley changes. “Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good luck pennies, and our lives” (Lee 278).

Scout realized that Boo Radley was the person who stabbed Bob Ewell and Boo had been watching her and her brother for years. When she stood on the porch of the Radley place and looked at the world from Boo’s perspective, she could see how important a part they had played in his life. With little else to do, lonely Boo had watched over Jem and Scout as they played. They had almost become like “his” children. Boo taught Scout that Atticus was right when he said you never really know a person until you walk in his shoes. In other words, “Remember to walk a mile in his moccasins before you abuse, criticize and accuse.” -Mary T. Lathrap   

As Scout was growing up, she had a nontraditional female role model. Since her mother died when she was two, Scout was raised by Calpurnia, a Black cook hired by Atticus to run the household. “Calpurnia was something else again...She was always ordering me out of the kitchen, asking me why I couldn’t behave as well as Jem...Our battles were epic and one-sided. Calpurnia always won” (Lee 6). Although Calpurnia seemed to be strict with the children, it appears that she cared for them deeply. She spent every day working at their house and looked after them like a mother.

Since Scout had no memory of her real mother, Calpurnia became a major source of security and comfort. In addition to feeding and clothing the children, Calpurnia did her best to teach them about manners and treating everyone with kindness and respect. When Scout brought Walter Cunningham home for lunch and criticized him for drowning his food in syrup, Calpurnia was furious, “...anybody sets foot in this house’s yo’ comp’ny, and if he wants to eat up the table cloth you let him, you hear?...don’t let me catch you remarkin’ on their ways like you was so high and mighty!” (Lee 27). Because Calpurnia was a Black woman in a small southern town, she knew what it felt like to be treated without respect. She also knew how it felt to be poor, because Blacks at that time had little opportunity for quality jobs. Due to her life experiences, Calpurnia had strong empathy for others who faced problems in the community. Her strong family values were evident; her support of and loyalty to Atticus and the children went far beyond the requirements of a hired cook. 

The third adult in Scout’s life, and the one who had the greatest impact on her, was her father, Atticus. A small-town attorney, Atticus was a logical, but caring, parent who worked in the local courthouse. He tries to teach her about doing the right thing as he explains his reason for defending Tom Robinson. “..if I didn’t, I couldn’t hold up my head in town...Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win” (Lee 87). Throughout the book, it becomes clear that Atticus is a man ahead of his time. He is not prejudiced against Blacks or poor people; he judges on character and principles rather than skin color or income. He also is a somewhat permissive parent. Although he repeatedly demands that his children respect all people, even if they are different, he has little concern about whether Scout wears overalls or experiments with swearing.

His parenting style is somewhat indirect; he teaches his children by example and by expressions he uses, rather than telling them what to do. “Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” Atticus is talking about more than birds when he makes this statement. He is teaching his children about not bothering people who aren’t bothering you or anyone else. This is obvious in the way Atticus scolds the children for building a snowman that looks like the neighbor or trying to make Boo Radley come out of his house. He is a man who believes in kindness and fairness to everyone, and he is determined to develop these values in his children.  

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout Finch learns about life through the eyes of three strong characters. Boo Radley taught her to never judge a book by its cover. Calpurnia showed her the importance of being humble and kind to everyone. Her father, Atticus, taught her about doing the right thing and never giving up, even when the odds are not in your favor. With these strong role models in her life, it is easy to visualize Scout becoming a politician in the future. She would be an activist concerned with expanding civil rights and passing laws intended to protect the rights of all members of society.

 

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