The Greatest Life Lessons from “To Kill a Mockingbird”

To Kill a Mockingbird, one of English literature’s must-read classics of all time, was author Harper Lee’s only novel…

…until recently, that is, when HarperCollins published Lee’s second novel, Go Set a Watchman. Set some 20 years after the events in the Mockingbird, it tells the story of a grown-up Scout (Jean Louise) who went back to her hometown and realized that a lot of things have changed.

While reactions are mixed with regards to Watchman–the Atticus Finch we have known and loved for years is not evident in this book–one thing is for sure: Mockingbird is and will always be a much-loved classic, no matter how its sequel is received.

Here are some life lessons we’ve had from reading (and re-reading!) To Kill a Mockingbird through the years.

The beloved classic.

Don’t judge anyone.

Scout and Jem learned from their father that people are complicated and that they are more than what they appear, so we must not judge based on their skin color or their actions. We can only begin to understand them when we stand in their shoes and see things from their own perspective.

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Atticus taught the children empathy, and made them see the good in people first.

Be yourself, don’t just follow the crowd.

Atticus encouraged his children to be themselves, to express their unique personalities and not just follow the crowd. When Scout, for example, called Tom Robinson a “nigger” just because everybody was doing it, he asked her to stop it, and that it was a common thing to do.

Scout’s aunt, Atticus’ sister, was always telling the child to be more girly, to wear dresses and play with tea sets, but Atticus  stood firm to let Scout be Scout. When Scout asked him for his opinion about it, “he said…he didn’t mind me much the way I was.”

Harper Lee receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from former President George W. Bush in 2007.

Moral courage is as important as physical courage.

For Atticus Finch, moral courage is as important (if not more) as physical courage. It means doing what you need to do even if the whole world turns against you. It is the strength to keep on going despite knowing that you’re fighting a lost battle.

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He told his son: “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

How about you? What have you learned about life from To Kill a Mockingbird?