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Courage in To Kill a Mockingbird

This study will examine the characters in Harper Lee's novel To Kill A Mockingbird in order to define the nature of courage. Atticus Finch, a clearly heroic figure in the novel, who lives according to high principle, offers a definition of courage as "when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what" (112). This definition seems to have more to do with stubbornness or determination rather than courage. Atticus' definition would seem to hold that a career criminal is courageous, for such a criminal knows that he will be caught and punished sooner or later. Was Hitler courageous when he set out to conquer the world and establish a one-thousand-year German reign, when he must have known on some level that it was impossible, yet he began? Simple stubbornness, determination, sticktoitiveness, or plain delusional acts do not courage make. Neither is courage in my view contained in the desire of Mrs. Dubose to live and die "beholden to nothing and nobody" (112). Such a yearning seems to denote more misanthropy than courage. Courage, to the contrary, would be the ability to recognize the interdependence of flawed human beings and the rewards such mutual "beholdenness" brings to all of us.

To be, courage must have to do with some higher principle---especially truth---rather than simply being an internal force which drives one willfully to begin and follow through on an impossible task. If the task is unworthy, the effort can hardly be called courageous. Certainly the Haverfords cannot be called courageous simply because they determined to reject a plea bargain in the face of certain conviction for murdering a man in an argument over a horse (4-5).

I believe that courage has to do with self-knowledge and the ability to change one's views in the face of experience which yields evidence contrary to one's earlier beliefs. In other words, courage is simply the willingness, ability and de...

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Courage in To Kill a Mockingbird. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 16:30, March 20, 2019, from