In this novel, Harper Lee explores a range of different themes. From prejudice and segregation due to race and class to societies beliefs to the right and wrong. The major theme which runs through out this novel is courage. Courage is demonstrated in many ways, such as physical courage, standing up to what you believe in, overcoming personal fears and even childhood dares are all a form of this theme. I would like to determine what ‘real courage’ means to both Harper Lee and to the characters of this novel.
I will do this by analysing two extracts which represent the courage shown in this book. The death of Mrs. Dubose shocked Jem as he had no thought to the pain Mrs. Dubose inflected upon her body as she tried desperately to rid herself of her morphine addiction. Jem had always regarded her as an utterly revolting person who was barely fit to be called a lady. He never considered her as his father’s role model or the bravest women his father had ever known. In this extract courage is displayed by two characters.
Firstly Mrs. Dubose, who had the courage to make an attempt to disregard her horrid addiction. She had the courage to stand up to what she believed in and it was very important to her that she at least made an effort to try. She did this knowing clearly that she was very unlikely to succeed and even after realising this she still insisted that: ” She was going to leave this world beholden to nothing or nobody. ” Her desire was to die free. Mrs. Dubose had no intention of leaving this world owing thanks to anything or anybody. This is the main reason why she tried so hard to rid herself of the addiction.
This is a very courageous act because she had the determination to try and attempt the impossible whilst others would probably think, ‘what is the point when I have only a few months to live’ and they would most likely give up before they started. But not Mrs. Dubose. She stuck to her belief because she was so determined that she had reached a point where her whole body and mind relied upon an alarm clock. She was fully aware of the risk she was taking and that she would experience a lot of physical and emotional suffering, but she still took her step.
This is why Atticus portrays her as the bravest person he ever knew. Mrs. Dubose was not the only character in this extract to display such bravery. Jem had also shown courage by overcoming his personal fear of Mrs. Dubose. He did not fear her as such, but he was sickened by her and this is the reason why he was so reluctant to go and read to her. He had no intention of doing so, but was forced upon by his father. He felt nauseated by her because of her revolting looks, which both Jem and Scout found quite hideous. ” She was horrible.
Her face was the colour of a dirty pillow case and the corners of her mouth glistened with wet……. ” The readers are given a very graphic description of Mrs. Dubose’s appearance. She is portrayed as an extremely revolting and dirty women who’s skin colour is beyond normal and there are puddles of saliva emerging from the corners of her mouth. This indicates exactly why the children were disgusted by her. Despite Jem’s dislike for this women and her hideous looks he had to overcome these thoughts and proceed with his punishment which was to read. Jem had never viewed her from a different point of view.
He always saw her as an old, ugly women and never imagined that this old lady was capable of so much. For a child of Jem’s age to have to have to read to a women like Mrs. Dubose must have been terrifying, but Jem had to pick up the courage and was successful in doing so to face his fear. He occasionally complained to Atticus but he never tried to avoid it. Although he approaches the task as a challenge, he displays an extremely large amount of courage for a child of his age. Atticus wants his children to realise and understand that real courage is not ‘a man with a gun in his hand’.
He uses Mrs. Dubose as an example to show his children that courage comes from within a person and that anyone is able to show courage. For example by conquering a personal fear or even standing up to their beliefs. He wanted his children to see that courage is not and does not have to be someone who brings pain to other living things, whether they be a person or an animals by violence or any other form. Even though Mrs. Dubose and Atticus differed in opinion, Atticus still respected her and admired her for her bravery. Atticus’s admiration also shines out of Jem when he realises her bravery and the true courage she really shows.
When he was first presented with the flower his first reaction to the flower was: ” ‘Old hell-devil, old hell-devil! ‘ he screamed, flinging it down. ‘Why can’t she leave me alone? ” The reason for his dramatic reaction is that he believed that Mrs. Dubose was still haunting him even after her death. He thought that the flower was a reminder of his crime for which he was punished for. He never interpreted the flower as a gift from Mrs. Dubose, and that it was her way of thanking Jem for reading to her and helping her through such a tough time in her life.
Jem being so young did not fully understand the meaning of the gift properly. Once explained to by Atticus, he began to realise what the gift represented. For the first time Jem had witnessed true courage and his admiration and understanding in her courage was seen. ” I saw him fingering the wide petals ” Now that he understood Mrs. Dubose he had respect for the sender and had value for the flower. He saw the true meaning and beauty in the gift that was presented to him, rather than viewing it as a horrible reminder of her fowl ways and the scarred memories she left behind.
After the arrest of Tom Robinson he was transferred to the Maycomb County jail house. This was an advantage for some , such as the ‘Mob’ with Walter Cunningham. The mob had travelled to the jail house to retrieve Tom Robinson. They were unable to carry out their work due to the defendants lawyer, Atticus Finch. Atticus had refused to let them have what they desired. Secretly the children who had slipped out to find the where about of Atticus, had unknowingly stumbled into an extremely dangerous situation. It was clearly visible that the children were not welcomed by anyone.
Scout’s intrusion only made the situation more intense and dangerous. Her speech had changed the whole scenario. Although she was not aware of the changes she had made or the bravery that shone through her. Thinking it was a gathering she entered a group of people with whom she was unfamiliar with. All except one. Unwittingly, Scout diffused the explosive situation by engaging in an innocent conversation with one of the members of the mob. Using Mr. Walter Cunninghan she talked about his son and entailments without being conscious of the effect that her words were having on him.
Finally the men and Mr. Cunningham had seen sense and decide to make their way home. It was not until they reached home that Scout understood the danger and violence of the evening. She was courageous enough to barge in to a large crowd of people, start a conversation with a member of the crowd she barely knew and give him advise on entailments. All of this was said consciously, but sub-consciously towards the situation. Scout was not the only member of the Finch family to display courage. Nearly all the characters in this scene besides the mob showed some form of courage.
I thought Jem in particular showed the most courage by demonstrating moral courage. This is because, never had Jem challenged Atticus’s command or disobeyed his wishes. Jem stood up to the man he feared enough to return to the Radley place to retrieve his ripped pants. Jem took his step understanding fully what punishment he would be likely to face. He knew the danger of the current situation, yet he still decided to disobey his father and put everyone’s life in danger. This included his own life, Atticus, Scout and Dill’s life at jeopardy. He had an idea of what is, or may happen but he still refused to leave.
Jem is a boy who has great respect for his father and will obey his father even if he is wrong. He has so much respect that he will never answer back to his father no matter what happens, yet on that night he completely went against his father’s wishes. In this scene we see a more matured Jem unlike the Jem that was first introduced to the reader in the beginning of the novel. Also through his actions we are shown Jem’s interpretations of real courage. Not only has he dug up the courage to question his father and his authority but to also imitate him as well.
As Atticus’s fist went to his hips, so did Jem’s ” Jem is showing his father that none of his treats or demands are going to work or make him leave. He is showing his father that his words are weightless and will have no affect on him. Jem is indirectly indicating that not only is not going to leave the site, but also he has full understanding of the situation and is aware of the risk that he is taking and that he is still going to be a loyal, committed son who is prepared to stick by his father’s side no matter what takes place tonight.
Similarly to Jem, Atticus displays courage. Atticus demonstrates physical courage by representing Tom Robinson at the jail house. Atticus recognised what he was about to face, and just like Jem, he stuck to his belief. In my opinion I believe that Atticus and Jem both had a lot of strength within them to make that challenging decision and stick by it even if they had some doubts. Atticus stuck up to his White counterparts and defended a Negro’s life at the same time. Atticus was unarmed at this moment in time unlike the mob who each had a weapon of their own.
Alone Atticus faced a crowd of well over 20 men and tried to reason with them knowing he could be harmed or injured at any time. Mr. Underwood also showed a reasonable amount of courage. Although he was seated in the shadows of the jailhouse while the mob arrived, he sat there acquainted to the idea that the situation may get uncomfortable or unpleasant. It may not seem like much, but just like Atticus, he too was putting his life on the line. Overall I thought the person that displayed the most courage was Atticus, Jem and Scout.
The Finch’s. The family have been through many tough, difficult and challenging times and I believe that it is their courage that got them this far. Personally I agree with Atticus’s definition of real courage and that real courage is doing what you think is right and living by what you believe in and not by what your society believes is right. I also believe that there are different ways in which courage can advance in and be expressed. Many of the characters in this novel show courage, but in a more subtle way compared to the Finch’s. For example Ms. Maudie.
Although her views are similar to those of Atticus she does not display them so rationally. She does not tend to be very open about her view and she keeps them to herself. She shows courage by, not so much standing up to her beliefs and opinion, but she has the courage to think differently than the rest of her society and in rare cases act on them. Whilst others would deny their personal thoughts and views and proceed with the crowd. She displays courage by standing by the children when everyone else practically bombards the children with questions.
At this point she stands by the children to show them that her relationship with the children is the same as before and that nothing has changes between them. This is a form of courage because there may be many controversial issues surrounding and regarding her actions, but she still presses on to what she believes in. She also demonstrated courage when she approached the burning of her house in s calm manner and had a very positive feeling towards the whole situation Another character who I think expressed courage and bravery is Arthur (Boo) Radley.
It took a lot of courage for him to come out of hiding after being indoors for so many years. For Boo to come out of his ‘shell’ was extremely brave from his point of view. This is because he hardly ever came out, and to come out and expose himself to everyone in society after so many years must have been quite difficult. He came out of hiding to rescue the children when they were attacked by Robert Ewell. Dolphus Raymond’s act of courage is not as clear or straight forward as the other characters. Whether or not Dolphus Raymond shows any courage can be discussed and is a two sided issue.
This is because although he was brave enough to disregard his societies values and have a family with a Negro women he does not posses the courage to admit that he did so intentionally. Instead he blames it on the fact that he is an alcoholic who is living with the mistake he made whilst being drunk. He uses this as an excuse to justify his actions. Robert Ewell does not maintain any courage of any type or form. This is because he was neither brave enough or strong enough to procure revenge on Atticus. The man who had exposed the reality of the Ewell residents to the whole of Maycomb.
Instead he attacked two innocent and helpless children in the dark. They were Atticus’s children who had done no harm to Mr. Ewell or any member of his family in any manner. I would sum up Mr. Ewell as a poor father who takes advantage of his role and neglects his children and deprives them of the love they really deserve, and is not capable to take care of his children or himself. I thought Mrs. Dubose definitely displayed a large amount of courage as she was willing to fight a battle which she was unlikely to win but came out as a winner at the end.
Tom Robinson represented a great deal of courage. He went on trial for a crime he had not committed and spoke the truth even though he would be called a liar. He entered the court knowing he did not have a chance to win. He pleaded his innocence and put his word against a white mans. This takes a lot of strength to do so, because at this time racism was extremely high and no Negro would ever deny such a charge in font of a dominant white society. He could have admitted the crime and be sentenced, but he was brave enough to try, similar to Mrs. Dubose.
I thought that Scout was also extremely courageous because she restricted herself from fighting and got labelled as a coward. For Scout’s character this task must have been very challenging as she is used to the idea of fighting with anyone in order to defend her pride. Unlike Jem, Scout had not yet reached the level where she was able to determine the requirements of a sensible action. For her to restrict herself from fights and hold her head high whilst other children refereed to her father as a ‘nigger lover’ is not as easy for her as it would be for Jem.
Fighting being a natural reaction for Scout especially when it comes down to defending her family members and pride, just like it would be for anyone who valued their family. She did this because her father had asked her not to fight despite what the children at school said about him. This not only indicates her level of courage, but also her respect for her father. In conclusion to this essay I have determined that some of the characters in this book display courage, but they are often unnoticed, whilst others shine through and they are prised highly.