Why does Atticus Defend Tom: Courage and Integrity in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’

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Defining True Courage: Atticus Finch’s Stand Against Prejudice in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’

Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that count” (qtd. in “Courage Quotes”). In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, a 6-year-old girl named Scout Finch and her older brother Jem resides in the county of Maycomb, Alabama, with their father, Atticus, and their African American housekeeper, Calpurnia. Throughout their childhoods, the two of them encounter several people that are out of the ordinary and that others think are strange.

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These include Boo Radley, a mysterious man who never comes out of his house, and Mrs. Dubose, a mean elderly woman who insults the children and Atticus. Their father, Atticus, has been appointed to defend Tom Robinson, an African American man who has been accused of raping a white woman. During this time period, an African American man put on trial would almost always be found guilty just because of his race. However, Atticus does his absolute best to prove Mr. Robinson innocent. Atticus believes that a person who shows courage is someone who perseveres even when the odds are not in their favor, which is shown through Atticus himself, Mrs. Dubose, and Boo Radley.

Atticus Defending Tom Robinson: A Testament to Bravery and Principle in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird

Throughout the novel, Atticus fits his own definition of bravery, especially throughout the Tom Robinson case. During Tom Robinson’s trial, after Atticus uses evidence to prove that he was innocent, Atticus says, “‘The witnesses for the state, with the exception of the sheriff of Maycomb County, have presented themselves to you gentlemen, to this court, in the cynical confidence that their testimony would not be doubted, confident that you gentlemen would go along with them on the assumption—the evil assumption— that all Negroes lie, that all Negro men are basically immoral beings, that all Negro men are not to be trusted around our women, an assumption one associates with minds of their caliber. Which, gentlemen, we know is in itself a lie as black as Tom Robinson’s skin, a lie I do not have to point out to you.

You know the truth, and the truth is: some Negroes lie, some Negroes are immoral, some Negro men are not to be trusted around women—black or white. But this is a truth that applies to the human race and no particular race of men” (Lee 273). Atticus knows that he has almost no chance of winning the case due to Maycomb’s racism and discrimination toward African American people. But, he takes it willingly and does his best to prove his defendant innocent. Despite all the rude insults Atticus gets from citizens of Maycomb, including children at Scout and Jem’s school, he continues to hold his head high and sticks to his beliefs. Atticus treats the Tom Robinson case the same way he would treat a case of a white person. He understands that other races are not actually inferior to his own, and he is not afraid to express this opinion to the people of Maycomb. Another character in this novel that is similar to Atticus in terms of bravery is Mrs. Dubose.

Mrs. Dubose’s Battle: Confronting Addiction and the True Meaning of Courage in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird

According to Atticus’ definition of courage, Mrs. Dubose is very bold due to her goal to no longer be addicted to drugs. After Mrs. Dubose dies, Atticus tells Jem, “‘Mrs. Dubose was a morphine addict… She took it as a painkiller for years… She’d have spent the rest of her life on it and died without so much agony, but she was too contrary… She said she was going to leave this world behold to nothing and nobody. Jem, when you’re sick as she was, it’s all right to take anything to make it easier, but it wasn’t all right for her. She said she meant to break herself of it before she died, and that’s what she did… I wanted you to see what real courage is… It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway, and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. Mrs. Dubose won all ninety-eight pounds of her. According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew” (Lee 147-149).

Mrs. Dubose knew that trying to get off of morphine would be a very painful process and that there was a high chance that she would not make it through. She could have continued to take morphine and died addicted, which would have been painless and effortless. However, she knew that she wanted to die clean and was willing to suffer. Due to her determination, she was able to die without being addicted to morphine anymore. So, even though there was an extremely high chance she would fail, she ended up succeeding and accomplishing her goal. Like Mrs. Dubose, Boo Radley shows fearlessness toward the end of the novel.

Boo Radley’s Silent Valor: A Selfless Act in the Shadows of Maycomb

Boo Radley is another example of an audacious character in this novel. After Boo Radley kills Bob Ewell in order to defend Jem and Scout, Mr. Tate says to Atticus, “‘I never heard tell that it’s against the law for a citizen to do his utmost to prevent a crime from being committed, which is exactly what he did, but maybe you’ll say it’s my duty to tell the town all about it and not hush it up… To my way of thinkin’, Mr. Finch, taking the one man who’s done you and this town a great service an’ draggin’ him with his shy ways into the limelight—to me, that’s a sin. It’s a sin, and I’m not about to have it on my head. If it was any other man, it’d be different.

But not this man, Mr. Finch’” (Lee 369-370). Boo Radley knew that killing Mr. Ewell would have severe punishments, and he would most likely end up in jail or get the death penalty. But he felt it was his duty to protect Scout and Jem, so he risked his life for them. Mr. Tate was able to recognize that he committed this crime with good intentions and was not trying to harm anyone. Luckily, Boo did not face any punishment, thanks to Mr. Tate. There was a low probability that Boo Radley would not be punished, but because of his kind nature and helpfulness, he did not have to be penalized. Even though Boo Radley stayed inside his house most of his life, he displayed courage by defending his “children” when they were attacked by a vengeful Bob Ewell.

Defining True Courage: From Fictional Heroes to Modern Day Icons

In conclusion, Atticus, Mrs. Dubose, and Boo Radley all show bravery throughout the novel based on Atticus’ definition of someone who is persistent, even when there is a low chance they will succeed. Atticus willingly takes on the Tom Robinson case, Mrs. Dubose makes it her life’s goal to die clean, and Boo Radley kills Bob Ewell to save Jem and Scout’s lives. Today, there are still people who embody courage. For example, Malala Yousafzai is someone who matches Atticus’ definition of bravery. She lived in Pakistan, where women and girls do not have as many rights as men, including the right to an education. Despite this, Malala stood up for her beliefs and became a women’s education activist. Her father ran a girls’ school that she attended, even though it was against the law. She spoke out about female rights to education, which made her a target. One day, a gunman came onto her school bus and shot her in the head. She survived and, to this day, continues to fight for women’s rights. Malala knew that she was breaking the law and could face punishment, yet she did what she believed in, which takes real courage.


  1. Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. Grand Central Publishing, 1960.
  2. “Courage Quotes.” Goodreads, Goodreads, www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/courage.
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Why Does Atticus Defend Tom: Courage and Integrity in 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. (2023, Aug 07). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/why-does-atticus-defend-tom-courage-and-integrity-in-to-kill-a-mockingbird/