Courteous Detachment Shapes “To Kill a Mockingbird”

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Updated: Aug 31, 2023
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“To Kill a Mockingbird,” written by Harper Lee in 1960, is a book about racism that creates a lot of controversy. It creates a lot of controversy because it is a very delicate subject to talk about. The book talks about how black people were being mistreated by white people, which can be very uncomfortable for some people to read about. Atticus, the father, lawyer, and main character of this essay, chooses to defend Tom Robinson, a black man, despite how the townsfolk feel towards black people.

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Atticus is a very complex man with many personality traits. However, one of his main traits is that he’s quiet. He keeps to himself. Even though he’s quiet, he is very good at his job of being a lawyer. Because he is a lawyer, I feel that he is very powerful. He speaks on behalf of Tom Robinson, so any little error that Atticus makes can affect Tom Robinson. Whatever Atticus says or does affects the setting, the other characters, and the theme of the story in many different ways.

Courteous Detachment’s Impact on Family Dynamics

An example of how Atticus’s actions/consequences affect others is when Scout begins to describe Atticus as a father. The text states, “ Jem and I found our father satisfactory… and treated us with courteous detachment.” (pg. 6) When Scout uses the term “courteous detachment,” she means to say that Atticus isn’t the type of father who tries to interfere or have a voice in everything they do. This is an example of how Atticus’s actions/consequences affect others because he doesn’t really have an effect on his kids. He lets them do whatever they want whenever they please.

Another example of when Atticus affects the other characters in the story is when he goes to protect Tom Robinson from the group of men in jail. ( Chapter 15, pg. 203-204) The text consists of Atticus telling Jem to go home multiple times. “Go home Jem, take Scout and Dill home… Son, I said go home. Jem shook his head.” (pg. 203) I believe that in this specific part of the book, Atticus begins to put his foot down and have an effect on Jem. Atticus became more of an authority rather than just the father of Jem and Scout.
Another example of how Atticus’s choices affect the setting of the story is when it is Mayella’s turn for her testimony. “ Do you love your father, Miss Mayella?… He does tollable… except when he’s drinking?’ (pg. 245) Right here is when Atticus catches Mayella in a lie. That’s when she starts to get nervous. Atticus changes the setting by making it more tense. He makes it more tense by asking Mayella a question that catches her in a lie.

Atticus and the Mockingbird Theme

The theme of “ To Kill a Mockingbird” is expressed in the book when they say, “It is a sin to kill a mockingbird.” (pg. 119) I believe that what this is trying to say is that it is wrong to hurt something as innocent as a mockingbird. In this case, Tom Robinson is the “mockingbird.” He is accused of raping Mayella even though he was innocent. “ I have nothing but pity in my heart for the chief witness for the state, but my pity does not extend so far as to which she has done in an effort to get rid of her own guilt.” This quote represents the theme very well through the eyes of Atticus. He said it during the trial. Like I’ve said before, Atticus speaks on behalf of Tom Robinson. Whatever he says can affect Tom. What Atticus is basically saying is that Mayella is hurting Tom Robinson even though he is innocent. “ It is a sin to kill a mockingbird.” In this case, Tom Robinson is the mockingbird, and Mayella is the one committing the sin. What Atticus said affected the theme of the story in a very good way because he made the theme a little more clear. He used the trial as an example to help the reader fully understand the theme of the story.


Once again, my thesis statement is that the consequences of Atticus’s actions do affect the setting, the other characters, and the theme of the story in many different ways. These examples help open the reader’s eyes to how Atticus really affects the story and everything that comes with it. That includes the setting, the theme, and the other characters. I believe that all these examples help support my thesis statement.


  1. “Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee” by Charles J. Shields

  2. “Scout, Atticus, and Boo: A Celebration of Fifty Years of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird'” by Mary McDonagh Murphy

  3. “Atticus Finch: The Biography” by Joseph Crespino

  4. “The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee” by Marja Mills

  5. “Why ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Matters: What Harper Lee’s Book and the Iconic American Film Mean to Us Today” by Tom Santopietro

  6. “The Harper Lee Collection: To Kill a Mockingbird + Go Set a Watchman” by Harper Lee

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Courteous Detachment Shapes "To Kill a Mockingbird". (2023, Aug 31). Retrieved from