The Courage of the Minor Characters in To Kill a Mockingbird, a Novel by Harper Lee
Bravery in the Minority
Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic coming of age novel about the very young protagonist, Scout, and her life in Alabama around the time of the 1930’s. Throughout the course of this novel, Scout comes across many conflicts in her life, however these trials and tribulations help her to grow into a very intelligent, charismatic, and kind person. Although Lee’s novel focuses on Scout’s life and the challenges she witnesses and faces, there are plenty of minor character that also face these same trials as well as many harder one throughout the novel. Atticus, Mrs. Dubose, and Boo Radley are all examples of minor characters that are pushed into uncomfortable events and must brave through them.
Atticus, being Scout’s father, is one of the biggest and most important minor characters. He is one of the few important role models in Scout’s life that teach her all the necessary lessons she needs to grow up, including a few about bravery. However, Atticus’s own bravery is shown in a much different way from Scout’s. Whereas to be brave, Scout stands up to Aunt Alexandra by refusing to wear pants, or she will defend Atticus’s name by starting fights at school, Atticus is brave by not only taking Tom Robinson’s case, but actually trying his hardest to help him as well. In 1930’s Alabama, a white man helping out a black man is as good as committing a crime, and even though Atticus is a well-known and respected lawyer, a good portion of the town turns against him after he decides to help Tom. Scout overhears a few townspeople talking before the trial, saying, “‘you know the court appointed [Atticus] to defend this [negro].’ ‘Yeah, but Atticus aims to defend him. That’s what I don’t like about it’” (Lee 218). Atticus is showing his courage by going against what his society thinks and defending a black man because he actually wants to. He even takes it a step further when a mob of townspeople join together and go down to the jail cell Tom is in and rough him up. Atticus shows his bravery when he goes down to the jail and waits outside the Tom’s cell for the mob. Once they get there, Atticus remains calm, his only response being “‘[Tom’s] asleep. Don’t wake him up” (202). Even though most of Maycomb is against him throughout the whole endeavor, Atticus sticks to his mind, staying brave and helping Tom as much as he possibly can.
Mrs. Dubose’s appearance in To Kill a Mockingbird is abrupt and harsh, but it leaves a major impact on Scout as well as the rest of the story’s plot. When Mrs. Dubose is first introduced, she is yelling at and criticizing Jem and Scout, and she seems to just come off as a nasty old woman. However, later on after Jem is forced to read to Mrs. Dubose everyday for some time, Mrs. Dubose passes away, and Atticus reveals to Jem and Scout just how courageous Mrs. Dubose truly was. Old Mrs. Dubose was an addict to painkillers and she became ill, but made a promise to herself to break the habit of painkillers and die as free “as the mountain air” (148). Mrs. Dubose was a woman in the novel that did not listen to anybody else, but she did not go about it radically; Mrs. Dubose “died beholden to nothing and nobody,” sticking to her views and braving through all the pain she went through (149). According to Atticus, she was the bravest person he had ever known, and coming from a white man in the 1930’s South, that means an awful lot.
The most courageous character, yet character that is seen the least, in the novel is Boo Radley. Boo Radley is a shut-in, he does not leave the house and does not keep contact with any person besides his brother. Boo is comfortable inside, and so that’s where he stays for the majority of the novel, but when Jem and Scout are in trouble, Boo comes outside. Boo Radley leaves the house he has spent years upon years of his life in to save two of the most important people to him from death. This is undoubtably the most courageous act in the whole novel. All the citizens of Maycomb, whether they have met him or not, know that Arthur Radley does not like the limelight, so for him to come out of his home and kill Bob Ewell, massive amounts of courage were needed. As Sheriff Tate says, “To my way of thinkin’, Mr. Finch, taking the one man who’s done you and this town a great service an’ draggin’ him with his shy ways into the limelight—to me, that’s a sin . . . If it was any other man it’d be different. But not this man, Mr. Finch” (370). Boo Radley risked not only his own life but his own security and privacy in order to save two children that he had been secretly watching over for years. This immense bravery makes Boo Radley one of the most notable characters in the whole novel, even though he only appears for a few scenes and has a grand total of one line.
No matter how minor a character may be in To Kill a Mockingbird, the amount of times the character may appear does not matter; what does matter is what the character does and stands up for. Mrs. Dubose and Boo Radley make minuscule appearances in the entire novel, yet they are two of the bravest characters written about. Atticus, Mrs. Dubose and Boo Radley all are minor characters that face great hardships, but their tremendous sense of courage helps them to overcome these events and change the course of the novel in an instant.
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