Do the Right Thing: Values & Ethics in To Kill a Mockingbird
Driving Questions: What factors influence our moral growth? What kinds of experiences help us learn to judge right from wrong?
“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” — Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird
"Moral growth" refers to the development of each individual’s ability to judge right from wrong. This process comprises one of the core themes of To Kill a Mockingbird. As the story unfolds through the eyes of Scout, the readers watch her and her brother, Jem, come of age in a society whose morals are at odds in crucial ways with the conscience of their father, Atticus. All three Finches—Scout, Jem, and Atticus—are confronted with their community’s beliefs about race, class, and gender, and they must figure out how to be both individuals and members of their society. As you explore the ways in which the characters negotiate these tensions, you will have the opportunity to reflect deeply on how all of us grow and mature as moral people. When To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960, it became an overnight sensation. Courageous African-Americans were bringing issues of race, fairness, and simple justice to the attention of the nation and the world by appealing to the conscience of all people everywhere. The discussions they inspired are at the heart of a democratic society—one that truly strives to provide “equal rights for all, special privileges for none,” one that insists on “a square deal” for every individual in its courtrooms and every child in its classrooms. To Kill a Mockingbird is as relevant today as it was in 1960; there have been significant gains, but we still have a way to go.
As you read the novel in book club groups, you will trace the moral growth of the central characters and examine the ethical dilemmas presented in the book. To equip you with the skills you need to be successful for the kinds of examinations you will be taking in your college classes this fall, your final assessment for the novel will be an in-class final essay on an ethical question presented in the book. To prepare for your final, you will write weekly on-demand reading responses.
Deliverables & Deadlines
Weekly reading response essays: Each Friday
Senior project final writeup: Wednesday, May 24th