Finch Family in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’: Empathy and Integrity

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Respecting Privacy and Challenging Prejudices: Lessons from Atticus Finch

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” This lines up with Atticus Finch’s morals and what he tries to teach his children throughout To Kill a Mockingbird. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, is a book set during the great depression in Maycomb, Alabama, where a white man named Atticus Finch laws for a black man named Tom Robinson, who is falsely accused of raping a white woman.

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Atticus Finch is a kind man who teaches his children Jem and Scout not to judge people, to fight for what they believe in, and to walk in others’ shoes. The theme of individuals judging without knowing is illustrated through the moral character and actions of Atticus Finch.

Atticus teaches Jem and Scout to respect everybody and their privacy regardless of rumors or what other people think about them. Boo Radley is gossiped about by everyone in Maycomb, and Jem and Scout keep trying to put a note in his window in the back of his house, but Atticus catches them and demands they “Stop tormenting that man” (56). he explained that what Boo did in his house was his own business, and he could go about how he pleased. Scout and Jem might not have thought that what they were doing was wrong, but Atticus helped them understand how what they were doing was an invasion of Boo’s privacy and that they needed to stop. While playing a game in their front yard, Dill, Jem, and Scout were reenacting Boo Radley stabbing his father with scissors. Atticus is shocked at what he sees, and he scolds them for “putting his life’s history on display for the edification of the neighborhood” (56).

To Kill a Mockingbird Family Values: Empathy, Equity, and Understanding in Maycomb

When Atticus puts a stop to their behavior, he points out how extremely unkind it is to make fun of people like Boo Radley, who were already tormented and gossiped about. The kids realized how disrespectful their behavior was, and they didn’t continue their game. Beyond teaching the kids respect, Atticus also teaches the kids not to judge people based on their wealth and to look at things from different people’s perspectives. The Cunninghams are an extremely poor family who can’t afford much of anything, and they are too proud to take the money they are unable to pay back. In exchange for Atticus’s services, instead of charging money, they pay him in stovewood, hickory nuts, and turnip greens. Scout wonders why he isn’t paying Atticus money, but he explains, “That’s the only way he can pay” (27). Rather than judging the Cunninghams or turning them away because they can’t pay with money, Atticus sets a positive example for Jem and Scout to accept people’s situations and make compromises instead of judging their situations.

When Walter Cunningham doesn’t have lunch at school, the teacher tries to offer him money, but he declines, and when Scout tries to explain Cunningham’s social status, she ends up getting hit with a ruler. She complained about this issue to Atticus when she got home, and he told her, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view- until you climb into his skin and walk around in it” (36). This was important for Scout to hear because this taught that the teacher made an honest mistake because she is new to Maycomb and is unaware of how things work. Learning to walk in other people’s shoes is a crucial lesson for Scout, and it helps her understand people, so she won’t judge them. Another important thing Atticus teaches Jem and Scout is to treat people equally and to fight for what is right, even if you aren’t going to win.

Standing Firm in Convictions: Atticus Finch’s Lessons on Integrity and Understanding in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird

Atticus faced tremendous backlash when he was lawing for a black man accused of raping a white woman because it wasn’t socially acceptable. People (even adults) were being rude to Jem and Scout because of their father’s decision. Ms. Dubose confronted Jem and Scout and told them, “Your father’s no better than the ni**ers and trash he works for” (110). Regardless of the Finches constantly being disrespected, Atticus taught them to rise above, remain positive and do the right thing even though other people say it’s wrong. Scout was talking with Atticus at one point, and she was asking why he defended Tom Robinson even though other people said he shouldn’t, and people were acting disrespectfully towards him. He responded, saying, “If I didn’t hold up my head in town, I couldn’t represent this county in the legislature, I couldn’t even tell you or Jem not to do something… I could never ask you to mind me again” (83). Atticus has a strong set of morals where. He believes everybody deserves an equal chance, and he is willing to fight, even if it means losing, because it’s the right thing to do. If he didn’t do what he saw correctly, he didn’t think Jem and Scout would have to listen to him. Individuals tend to judge others without knowing what they are like or what their story is, and Atticus’s morals and actions encourage Jem and Scout to look at things from other people’s perspectives.

Jem and Scout are taught to always respect people and their privacy, no matter how they choose to live their life. Atticus shows them that you shouldn’t judge other people if they have less than you, and you should walk in other people’s shoes or look at things from their point of view before you judge them. The most crucial lesson Atticus imparts to Jem and Scout is to always fight for the right thing, even if you may lose or if other people don’t approve of what you are doing, because everyone deserves a chance. This can be applied to real life because there are people who are poor, misjudged, and disrespected all the time. If people just took a minute to walk in somebody else’s shoes, there might be more respect given, and the world might be a less hateful place. 


  1. Lee, Harper. “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006.
  2. Johnson, Claudia. “Understanding ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historic Documents”. Greenwood Press, 1994.
  3. Shields, Charles J. “Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee”. Holt Paperbacks, 2007.
  4. Bloom, Harold (ed.). “Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird: New Essays”. Scarecrow Press, 2010.
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Finch Family in 'To Kill a Mockingbird': Empathy and Integrity. (2023, Aug 22). Retrieved from