Analysis of “To Kill a Mockingbird”: Scout’s Lesson of Empathy

A child’s laugh scatters through the grayed sky, inopportune for the gloom hanging in the air. woman shifts her heavy gaze upon the misunderstanding girl, echoes of her own childhood shattering her thoughts. She glances back to her innocence and nostalgia jolts through her veins; empathy jolts through her veins. Empathy is a capability unique to humans; one that allows them to understand and relate to the situations and backgrounds of others. In the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, the main character Scout, learns about the varied differences of opinion within society and comes to terms while understanding each of those differences. Scout recognizes the importance of understanding another’s perspective- abandoning her previously provincial mindset for a mature and empathetic stance on the world surrounding her.

In the beginning of the novel, Scout judged Mrs. Dubose and her actions harshly, but as she learned more about Mrs. Dubose, she learned the importance of judging someone only after being able to understand them. Scout, with her naïveté, believes that Mrs. Dubose is just another neighbor, an old lady who hates children and Negro sympathizers with a passion. She goes as far as to think: “Mrs. Dubose was plain hell” (7). Without understanding the reality of the difficulties that possess Mrs. Dubose’s life, she was unable to empathize with her. She continued to think that Mrs. Dubose was just a person who hated unconditionally and irrevocably, until, the long reading sessions induced by an anger fit by Jem. Slowly, Scout realized why Mrs. Dubose was secluded and unkind. As Atticus explained to both her and Jem, “‘Mrs. Dubose was a morphine addict […] She said she was going to leave this world beholden to nothing and nobody’” (127). Scout learned the importance of understanding someone’s background, before judging who they were as a person. Through her thoughts of realization, as Atticus described to her the difficult choices Mrs. Dubose made, her change in the perception of Mrs. Dubose was apparent. As she recognized the courage necessary in the actions that Mrs. Dubose took, she was able to fully empathize with her.

As the novel progressed, Scout learned about the importance of women and their role in society, broadening her narrow-minded perception about the true meaning of being a woman.  In the beginning of the novel, Scout believed that women only had a superficial role in the Maycomb community. Pictured through her thoughts and actions, Scout’s stubbornness and dislike for conformity were evident: “Aunt Alexandra was fanatical on the subject of my attire. I could not possibly hope to be a lady if I wore breeches; when I said I could do nothing in a dress, she said I wasn’t supposed to be doing things that required pants” (92). Through her thoughts, it was easily perceived that she detested the idea of becoming a woman. She believed that being a woman was composed of wearing dresses and hypocritical standpoints. As Aunt Alexandra kept pushing her, she resisted, in an attempt to be different from the suffocating environment that surrounds her. However, as Scout developed as a character, her perception of womanhood itself changed. She realized that being a woman was more than just dressing up and holding social events; it was composed of civility and supportiveness. After witnessing Aunt Alexandra and Miss Maudie’s exchange during the tea party at the Finch residence, she realized the importance of women in society. Scout’s change in perspective is evident through her thoughts, “After all, if Aunty could be a lady at a time like this, so could I” (271). As Scout realized the courage and endurance required to become a woman, she began to empathize with the females surrounding her.

Throughout the novel, Boo Radley, the mysterious Maycomb county shut-in, intrigues Scout, a center for her attention, yet, as she develops as a character, she learns how to understand things from his perspective. At first, Scout pictures Boo as a “malevolent phantom” although “Jem and I [Scout] had never seen him” (9). Feeding off of rumors and gossip, Scout formed a biased opinion on a man she had never met. Viewing him as the evil man who peeps into people’s windows, she was unable to empathize with him as an actual human being. But as Atticus constantly explained to her the importance of “climbing into someone’s skin and walking around in it” she began to unearth the real Boo Radley; a kind and caring man. As she stands on Boo’s porch, she thinks, “Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough” (321). Through this, she lets go of all the prejudice she felt towards Boo and opens her heart to empathy.

All in all, Scout learned about the importance of empathizing; being able to understand another’s perspective. Mrs. Dubose, through her courageous actions, Boo Radley, through his surprising kindness, and Aunt Alexandra, through her constant expectations, pushed Scout to learn how to truly empathize. Empathy is an essential trait that composes the true definition of “being human.” As Scout understood the importance of empathy, she developed into a matured woman.  

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