Discuss Atticus’s parenting style. What is his relationship to his children like? How does he seek to instill conscience in them?
Atticus is a wise man, committed to justice and equality, and his parenting style is based on fostering these virtues in his children—he even encourages Jem and Scout to call him “Atticus” so that they can interact on terms as equal as possible. Throughout the novel, Atticus works to develop Scout’s and Jem’s respective consciences, through both teaching, as when he tells Scout to put herself in a person’s shoes before she judges them, and example, as when he takes Tom Robinson’s case, living up to his own moral standards despite the harsh consequences he knows he will face. Atticus is a kind and loving father, reading to his children and offering them comfort when they need it, but he is also capable of teaching them harsh lessons, as when he allows Jem to come with him to tell Helen Robinson about Tom’s death. At the end of the novel, when Atticus believes that Jem killed Bob Ewell, he tries to talk Heck Tate, the sheriff, out of calling the death an accident—Atticus’s standards are firm, and he does not want his son to have unfair protection from the law.
Analyze the trial scene and its relationship to the rest of the novel.
Discuss the author’s portrayal of the black community and the characters of Calpurnia and Tom Robinson. Are they realistic or idealized?
The black community in Maycomb is quite idealized, especially in the scenes at the black church and in the “colored balcony” during the trial. Lee’s portrayal of the black community isn’t unrealistic or unbelievable; it is important to point out, however, that she emphasizes all of the good qualities of the community without ever pointing out any of the bad ones. The black community is shown to be loving, affectionate, welcoming, pious, honest, hardworking, close-knit, and forthright. Calpurnia and Tom, members of this community, possess remarkable dignity and moral courage. But the idealization of the black community serves an important purpose in the novel, heightening the contrast between victims and victimizers. The town’s black citizens are the novel’s victims, oppressed by white prejudice and forced to live in an environment where the mere word of a man like Bob Ewell can doom them to life in prison, or even execution, with no other evidence. By presenting the blacks of Maycomb as virtuous victims—good people made to suffer—Lee makes her moral condemnation of prejudice direct, emphatic, and explicit.