Scout and Jem Learn Empathy From Other Characters in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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Richard Eyre, a film director, once said, “Change begins with understanding and understanding begins by identifying oneself with another person: in a word, empathyi The arts enable us to put ourselves in the minds, eyes, ears and hearts of other human beings” Empathy can change a person for the better, They can have a better attitude towards others by putting themselves in another‘s shoes; however, this is easier said than done. Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, and science communicator, also said, “Humans aren’t as good as we should be in our capacity to empathize with feelings and thoughts of others, be they humans or other animals on Earth So maybe part of our formal education should be training in empathy.

Imagine how different the world would be if, in fact, that we’re ‘reading, writing, m arithmetic, empathy, Tyson reasons that if empathy is a part of the world’s education, it will be ingrained into everyone’s routine and mind. Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird shows how empathy is important and how it affects society The novel, which takes place in the 1930’s in Maycomb, Alabama, is narrated by a young girl named Scout who lives with her older brother, Jem, and her father, Atticus, a lawyer. Through experiences, Scout and Jem learn about empathy from various people involved in their childhood, such as Bob Ewell, Boo Radley, and Walter Cunningham, from the prejudiced society to the importance of empathizing with others Harper Lee teaches us that empathy can lead a person to see from another’s perspective so people can overcome prejudice.

People who lack empathy will have a prejudiced mind set which will lead them to cause harm to others, Harper Lee teaches us that empathy is seeing from another‘s perspective and understanding his or her actions, conditions, and background, One character who shows empathy is Atticus, who in turn, leads Jem to better understand the reasons behind Mrs. Dubose’s actions and why Atticus calls her a courageous lady. Jem destroys Mrs. Dubose‘s camellias because she insults him and his family of being “nigger lovers” which disgraces Jem. As punishment, she makes him read to her to amend himself and to serve as a distraction to rid her addiction to morphine. When she dies, Atticus tells his children about how she was brave, but Jem disagrees. Jem says, “‘You know, she was a great lady,’ ‘A lady?’ Jem raised his head, His face was scarlet, ‘After all those things she said about you, a lady?‘ ‘She was.

She had her own views about things, a lot different from mine”. Even though Mrs. Dubose insulted Atticus, he calls her a lady. He empathizes with her and knows that she has different views from his, but wants to die free from anything or anyone, which makes her courageous. This makes Mrs. Dubose courageous because she had moral upstanding as demonstrated by how she held to her own beliefs, stood up for her morals and vowed to rid herself of her addiction to morphine. The definition of noble is having or showing fine personal qualities or high principles and morals. The words “lord” and “lady“ are referred to as nobles. Ergo, Atticus sees Mrs. Dubose as a lady who is noble. Jem, however, does not empathize with Mrs. Dubose, which means he is unable to understand that she is straining to break her addiction. Because of this, he oversees fact that Mrs. Dubose is courageous.

If Jem had seen this situation from her point of View, he would not have destroyed her camellias. Unlike Jem, Atticus empathizes with Mrs. Dubose and understands her reason for being ill—tempered because of the stress she has from freeing herself from morphine. Even though Mrs. Dubose disapproves of AtLicus’s ways, he still treats her courteously. [Deleted example about Tom and Mayella] Later, Atticus shows his ability to empathize in yet another situation when Bob Ewell spits at him after the trial, because he humiliates Bob during the trial by disproving Bob’s evidence and credibility. Jem and Scout worry about Atticus’s safety along with Dill, a friend of the Finch children, and Aunt Alexandra, the Finch children‘s aunti However, he reassures them, “’..,See if you can stand in Bob Ewell’s shoes a minute. I destroyed his last shred of credibility at that trial, if he had any to begin with.

The man had to have some kind of comeback… So if spitting in my face and threatening rne saved Mayella Ewell one extra beating, that’s something I’ll gladly take‘” (218) Atticus understands why Bob Ewell spits in his face. After all, Atticus “destroyed his last shred of credibility,” which was the impetus for Bob’s threat to Atticus. He knows that Bob will take his anger out on his children when he is drunk or mad, so he would rather have Bob take his anger out on Atticus than Mayella, This is one of the positive effects of empathy: doing something for the good of others even if it does not benefit oneselfi Atticus does not hate Mayella for accusing Tom Robinson, nor does he want her to suffer from the wrath of Bob; Mayella may be spared from her father’s wrath as a consequence of Atticus‘ actions. Thus, people who experience empathy for others develop a sense of understanding and change their actions toward them. As a result, prejudice is eliminated.

When people empathize with each other, prejudice can be alleviated At the end of the book, Scout finds Atticus sitting with Jem, who is under a sedative. Scout stays with Atticus and tells him to read The Gray Ghost to heri He reads it out loud and Scout soon falls asleep When Atticus carries her to her room, Scout recalls the details of the story like Stoner’s Boy, the man accused of a crime he never committed She says, “‘An‘ they chased him ’n’ never could catch him ’cause they didn’t know what he looked like, an’ Atticus, when they finally saw him, why he hadn’t done any of these things Atticus, he was real nice. ‘Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them. That means that the people chasing Stoner’s Boy did not have specific evidence to accuse him of the crime.

When Scout said “he was real nice,” that shows the mistakes the owners of the club made before catching Stoner’s Boy, Atticus responds by saying that “most people are“. when you finally see them.” He means that when someone walks in their shoes and empathizes with them, they will see what that person truly is. If the characters in The Gray Ghost attempted to empathize with Stoner’s Boy, they would not have chased him down and accuse him of a crime that he did not commit, It was prejudice that led the characters to suspect Stoner‘s Boy. Even though they did not know who Stoner’s Boy really was, they still accused him because they believed that he committed the act, Torn Robinson’s trial also symbolizes The Gray Ghost. Atticus tries to prove to the jury that Tom is not guilty. No one had the evidence to prove that it was him who raped Mayella.

Ewell, but he is still accused because of “the evil assumption — that all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings, that all Negro men are not to be trusted around our womenm”(204). If the people on the jury had empathized with Tom, then he may have been proven innocent. Atticus empathizes with Tom Robinson to try to prove him innocent. l-le pleads the jury to let go of their previous beliefs and walk in Tom’s shoes to think about what really happened. Atticus states the word “evil assumption” because he believes that prejudiced thoughts and assumptions about Tom and his race are unacceptable and should be considered intolerable. The Gray Ghost also connects to Boo Radley. The people of Maycomb have many different views of him. Stephanie Crawford make up rumors about him because the people dislike him and his family because they act differently.

Some people say that he eats raw animals for his meals even though they do not know if he really does that. Dill, Scout, and Jem are always trying to get Boo Radley to come out of his house so they can see who he really is Yet, once Boo came out of his house, their perceptions of him were proven to be false. Scout says, “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. Every scene of empathy culminates in this scene. Scout realizes that Boo is timid, childlike, and kind He does not seem to fit any of the descriptions people put on him. While standing on his porch, Scout is finally able to understand him. From his porch, she saw everything he saw that happened up until the present, including Atticus shooting the dog, the day that Dill first came to Maycomb, and Jem destroying Mrs, Dubose‘s camellias Suddenly, she realizes that Boo is not the image that Maycomb drew.

Through empathy, Scout realizes that Boo, their neighbor, is just a normal guy. The moment when Scout empathizes with Boo is the moment that she finds out that the prejudices about him are all wrong Scout sees Boo with both eyes open; looking at only the facts and judging him fairly by the truth. Tom Robinson and Boo Radley both show that as a result of empathy, people can be judged fairly rather than being judged by the prejudiced ideas about them People who lack empathy will become prejudiced, which will ultimately cause harm to others. After Tom Robinson is declared guilty, Scout and Jem worry about his fate and wonder why he was declared guilty. Atticus responds, “‘Tom Robinson‘s a colored man“. No jury in this part of the world’s going to say, ‘We think you’re guilty, but not very,’ on a charge like that. It was either a straight acquittal or nothing.

The jury lacks empathy towards Tom because they only consider one side, which is declaring him guilty. When Atticus says “It was either a straight acquittal or nothing,” it means that no one will declare him innocent because they do not have empathy towards Tom, It is either they declare him absolutely innocent or absolutely guilty and Atticus knows that no one would declare him absolutely innocent. Also, no one in the jury will even attempt to step in Tom’s shoes to see if he actually raped Mayella, They may be slightly swayed by Atticus’s speech, but the majority will eventually agree that Tom is guilty because he is black. The lack of empathy will cause Tom to be declared guilty, which will eventually lead to his death. Sometimes, causing harm to others is not necessarily physical harm, but rather, mental or emotional harm.

For example, when Jem invited Walter Cunningham to eat at their house, Scout mocks Walter for putting molasses everywhere on his plate: “Walter poured syrup on his vegetables and meat with a generous hand He would probably have poured it into his milk glass had I not asked what the sam hill he was doing. The silver saucer clattered when he replaced the pitcher, and he quickly put his hands in his lap Then he ducked his head,“ (24), Scout is prejudiced towards Walter because she is not used his behavior and is being mean to him because of that. She asks “what the sam hill he was doing” to get him to stop pouring molasses. Scout does not think of why he is pouring molasses all over his meal, she just finds it strange that he does that so she reacts by rudely questioning his behavior.

Walter feels ashamed and humiliated because he ducks his head as a sign of embarrassment. A lack of empathy can not only cause harm directly but indirectly. When Scout asks if she can play with Walter, Aunt Alexandra replies, “‘Because— he — is— trash, that’s why you can’t play with him, I’ll not have you around him, picking up his habits and learning Lord-knows—what,’ He caught me by the shoulders, put his arm around me, and led me sobbing in fury to his bedroom. Aunt Alexandra does not empathize with Walter and all she sees is how his family is dirty and poor. She only sees the outside of Walter, not the person he truly is so she calls him trash directly in Scout’s face. Since Walter is not there, it will not cause emotional harm to Walter. However, it causes indirect harm to Scout because she cares about him causing Scout to lash out in anger at her aunt. A lack of empathy causes prejudiced and biased thinking which will always eventually lead to harming to others Empathy is essential to understanding others so prejudice can be overcome.

People without empathy will act with prejudiced actions, ultimately causing harm to others. A society where people empathize with each other will create a more peaceful and friendly environment in which they can get along better with each other. In that society, no one will be treated unjustly and there will be no prejudice, Both Eyre and Tyson agree that there needs to be change. One might ask how to change, what to change, or how that society can be reached The downside is there is no simple and direct solution to that because there will always be people who refuse to empathize with others and there will always be those who never learn. Despite that, people can try to incorporate learning and empathy into their lives; empathizing with those who are different, communicating with each other, and most importantly, teaching the next generation what is truly rights Hopefully everyone can one day all learn to empathize with each other to create a benevolent society.


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Scout and Jem Learn Empathy From Other Characters in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. (2023, Jun 27). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/scout-and-jem-learn-empathy-from-other-characters-in-to-kill-a-mockingbird-by-harper-lee/

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