To Kill a Mockingbird

by: Harper Lee

Courage

1

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”

Atticus says this to Jem after the death of Mrs. Dubose, the woman to whom Jem has been reading aloud for the past month. Atticus reveals that Mrs. Dubose was addicted to painkillers but was determined to overcome her addiction before dying; he made Jem read to her as a distraction from her pain. This vision of courage contradicts Jem’s understanding of courage as hypermasculine and violent and instead reframes courage as persistence through times of difficulty.

2

“It's not time to worry yet.”

This is a refrain that Atticus frequently shares with Scout to calm her down. This quote, which recurs throughout the book, reminds us of Atticus’s paternal position and how he tries to protect Scout and Jem from outside reality. It also echoes President Roosevelt’s famous line, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” which is referenced in the first chapter of the book. The quote aligns Atticus with the president as a reassuring moral force, and underscores the importance of knowing what is an actual threat.

3

“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

The Finches’ neighbor Miss Maudie shares this wisdom when Scout asks why Atticus instructed Jem not to shoot his new air rifle at any mockingbirds. The novel takes its title from this quote, which explains that the innocent must be protected and treated with respect. There are several possible “mockingbirds” in the novel overall; Lee explicitly names Tom Robinson as one such innocent person and implies that Scout and the other children are also innocent.