The novel ends after Bob Ewell attacks Scout and Jem, and Boo Radley rescues them, killing Bob in the process. Atticus and Sheriff Heck Tate have a conversation about how to deal with the situation, and Scout walks Boo home. The conversation between Atticus and Heck can be difficult to understand, because the two men are talking about two different things. Atticus, who believes Jem is the one who killed Bob, thinks Heck wants to cover up the truth to protect Jem. Atticus is adamantly against lying to protect Jem. He thinks that protecting Jem from the law will undermine Atticus’s relationship with his children and everything that he has taught them. Heck, however, realizes that Boo killed Bob Ewell, and wants to cover up the truth to protect Boo. Heck doesn’t believe that Boo will be in any kind of legal trouble, because he was clearly protecting the children, but he thinks that the community will want to thank Boo and make him a hero which would be ruinous to Boo’s intense desire for privacy.
Atticus vehemently opposes covering up Jem’s involvement in Bob Ewell’s death, but he accepts that covering up Boo’s involvement is the right decision. This apparent inconsistency is an important moment in the reader’s understanding of Atticus and his motivations. Atticus is a highly principled man who values law and justice, but he is a man who values his relationship with his children even more. Atticus is not afraid that covering up Jem’s involvement will be unethical or illegal. He is concerned that doing something so hypocritical will ruin his relationship with his children. Atticus would rather that Jem face some difficulties than think that his father did not hold him to the same standard as everyone else. Atticus does not have that kind of relationship with Boo, and in fact likely owes Boo for the lives of both of his children, so Atticus is willing to accept that subjecting Boo to public scrutiny would be a mistake.
Another important aspect of the novel’s ending is Scout’s walk home with Boo. Boo specifically asks Scout to take him home – his only spoken lines of dialogue in the entire novel, revealing that this character who has been a source of fear for so many of the townspeople, including Scout and Jem, is actually quite fearful himself. In seeing Boo’s fear, Scout is put into the position of wanting to protect him, and his dignity, from the rest of the town. Calling Boo “Mr. Radley,” Scout takes him arm so that it looks like Boo is the one who is walking her down the street. In protecting Boo’s dignity and empathizing with his fear, Scout puts herself in another person’s shoes and thinks about the world from their perspective, just as Atticus instructed her. Atticus’s final lines, that most people are nice when you finally see them for who they are, underscores Scout’s maturation process from a child who was irrationally afraid of Boo to an adult capable of seeing Boo as a human being.