A great writer named William Faulkner once said, “You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore” (William Faulkner). William Faulkner defines the traditional definition of courage in his quote as simply being brave and forgetting your fears. He paints the image of a strong and heroic man exploring the world and defending the meek; this type of courage has been taught to people since they were kids. Even in To Kill a Mockingbird, we can see acts of traditional courage: Atticus shot the dog and Jem went back to retrieve his pants from the Radley place in the night.
Atticus and Jem did not face overwhelming odds when they completed those tasks. They both still exhibited a certain amount of bravery; which puts them in the category of the characters who demonstrated traditional courage. However, a new definition of courage arises in the book. One that is more prominent and shatters the old definition of courage. Real courage as defined in this book, is attempting to fight back and finish the task, even when you are fighting a losing battle.
Several characters in To Kill a Mockingbird, demonstrated real courage when the odds were stacked against them.Old Mrs. Dubose demonstrated real courage as she battled her inner demons. This is illustrated when she tries to resist her morphine addiction. Atticus tells the kids, “Mrs. Dubose was a morphine addict. She took it as a pain-killer for years”(Lee 112).
The fact that Mrs. Dubose resisted her morphine in the most painful stage of her illness, and was addicted to it for all those years makes her achievement even more impressive as we can even see in present day society how difficult and torturous the lives of drug addicts are; especially when they attempt to break free. Mrs. Dubose wanted to go out on her own terms, instead of being held accountable to a drug. In Scout’s vivid description of Mrs. Dubose when Jem read to her includes, “Her face was the color of a dirty pillowcase, and the corners of her mouth glistened with wet, which inched like a glacier down the deep grooves enclosing her chin”(Lee 106).
This description illustrates the pain and lengths Mrs. Dubose went through in her battle to fight of the drug in her waning moments.The kids thought she was a cantankerous and wicked lady, but Atticus knew better.
He saw her as a brave and courageous woman who fought and won against her inner demons despite the fact that the odds were stacked against her. She knew she was going to die, but instead of taking the easy way out Mrs. Dubose weathered the storm went out on top.Mrs. Dubose’s actions perfectly illustrate the real courage Harper Lee was trying to show the readers, and at that time her courage was much more superior to the ‘courage’ shown by a man with a weapon in his hand.Likewise, the morally sound Atticus Finch showed us and his kids what real courage actually looks like.
Atticus had no inhibitions when it comes to defending an innocent person, no matter who they were. He knew that he was defending a black man in the heart of the deep South. He was attempting to take on the stubborn infestation of racism in the town of Maycomb. Atticus knew that there was a tall task in front of him and that he was probably going to fail in the process of defending Tom. Scout could see that Atticus knew what was coming by the way he took the jury’s decision. “I saw Atticus pushing papers into the briefcase. He snapped it shut , went to the court reporter and said something.
nodded to Mr. Gilmer, and then went to Tom Robinson and whispered something to him”(Lee 211). At first it might have looked like Atticus was being nonchalant, but it was more like Atticus was thinking about the next course of action. Despite knowing he was going to fail, Atticus gave a stunning and powerful defense in Tom’s case which would have freed Tom had the jury not have been prejudiced. This act by Atticus Finch is much more courageous and impressive than the event in which he shot the rabid dog Tim Johnson. The kids failed to see this at that time, but Atticus knew that there was nothing courageous in what he did as he had the upper hand against the dog. Atticus had a gun with which he could kill the dog from a far distance while the dog was in a crazy state, unaware of itself.
Another key point is that Atticus put multiple things at risk so he could do his best to provide justice for an innocent man. Atticus staked his reputation and his family’s against the people of Maycomb. Many people viewed Atticus in a bad light because Atticus defended Tom. His very own family members criticized Atticus.
Aunt Alexandra got angry at Atticus because she thought that Atticus was ruining the Finch name. Yet Atticus steadies the course.