Courage is found throughout Harper Lee's novel, To Kill a Mockingbird
. Let's take a look at some of the main characters.
Atticus Finch doesn't like criminal law, yet he accepts the appointment to Tom Robinson's case — despite the fact that he knows before the trial begins that he's going to lose. Taking the case is a dangerous one for Atticus; he knows that many of the whites living in Maycomb want to see Tom Robinson, an African American accused of raping and beating a white woman, killed. The townsfolk turn their anger toward Atticus for defending Tom, but that doesn't stop Atticus from doing everything he can to ensure that Tom gets a fair trial.
Atticus steadfastly believes in Tom's innocence, and while any reasonable person could look at the evidence in the case and also realize that Tom didn't commit the crime, the racial prejudices of the 1930s in the Southern United States prevents most whites from doing so. It takes courage for Atticus to do the right thing, despite knowing that he will ostracize himself and his family from their own community in the process.
Jem represents the idea of bravery throughout the novel, and his definition of bravery changes over time. This goes beyond the fact that Jem ages from 10 to 13 throughout the novel, the shift that occurs has more to do with experience. At the start of the novel, Jem's idea of bravery is simply touching the side of the Radley house — and then only because "In all his life, Jem had never declined a dare." But as the story progresses, Jem learns about bravery from Atticus facing a mad dog, from Mrs. Dubose's fight with addiction and her willingness to face her illness head-on despite knowing that it's going to take her life, and other scenarios.
Jem's most courageous act is when the mob confronts Atticus at the jail, determined to kill not only Tom but also Atticus, if necessary. Jem refuses to obey his father for the first time in his life. Scout explains, "In the midst of this strange assembly, Atticus stood trying to make Jem mind him. 'I ain't going,' was his steady answer." Scout recognizes that Jem is exhibiting great courage. Scout, however, is braver by addressing the mob — although, ironically, she has no idea how brave she's being. Not until she's safely tucked in bed that night does Scout realize that the line between bravery and foolhardiness is thin.
Scout learns other lessons of bravery throughout the novel. As Atticus signs on to represent Tom Robinson, Scout and Jem tolerate a barrage of racial slurs and insults by the townspeople. But Atticus teaches Scout that doing the right thing doesn't always mean going along with everyone else. Throughout the story, Atticus tries to teach Scout the importance of looking at things from the other person's point of view. And by the end of the story, Scout can put herself in Boo Radley's shoes, the person she's feared most throughout the story.