To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird Atticus Finch Quotes
"This time we aren't fighting the Yankees, we're fighting our friends. But remember this, no matter how bitter things get, they're still our friends and this is still our home." (9.27)
If you're engaged in bitter warfare with someone, can you still be their friend at the same time? (Duh. That's why the word "frenemy" was invented.) But seriously—Atticus would say, sure can. You continue to treat them with a friend's respect, and you remember that they're part of a larger community that stays whole even if its parts are pulling in different directions.
"Scout," said Atticus, "when summer comes you'll have to keep your head about far worse things... it's not fair for you and Jem, I know that, but sometimes we have to make the best of things, and the way we conduct ourselves when the chips are down—well, all I can say is, when you and Jem are grown, maybe you'll look back on this with some compassion and some feeling that I didn't let you down." (11.53)
Sometimes it's kids rather than parents who just don't understand. Atticus knows that his behavior seems incomprehensible or just plain stupid from some perspectives, so he hopes Scout and Jem will be able to understand why he did what he did when they're older, even if they're too young to get it now. There's no shame in being an object of compassion.
"Jem, 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, his kind always does. So if spitting in my face and threatening me saved Mayella Ewell one extra beating, that's something I'll gladly take. He had to take it out on somebody and I'd rather it be me than that houseful of children out there. You understand?" (23.15)
Maybe Atticus really is so selflessly good that he can feel compassion even for Bob Ewell. Or maybe compassion really is based on a sense of superiority. Atticus can afford to be so generous because he knows he's so much better off than the Ewells will ever be, just because he was born a Finch instead of a Ewell. Or… both?