To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird Theme of Compassion and Forgiveness
(Click the themes infographic to download.)
How do you manage compassion for people when they are undeserving? Shmoop's answer: don't bother. To Kill a Mockingbird's answer: a little goodness, a little humility, and a lot of imagination. (No wonder we've never won a Pulitzer.) From the outside, a person may seem vile, stupid, or just plain incomprehensible. But if you can imagine what it's like inside that person's head, you might be surprised by the answers—and compassion—you find. Of course, there's also the danger that the person is just as nasty as you thought, but that's the risk a good person has to be willing to take.
Questions About Compassion and Forgiveness
- Is there anyone who the novel suggests isn't deserving of compassion and forgiveness? If so, who and why? If not, why not?
- Lots of characters feel pity and compassion for other characters. What does the object of a character's compassion reveal about that character?
- Is compassion learned or innate in the novel? Or both?
- Why does Atticus refuse to pity Mayella?
- Do you think Tom feels compassion for Mayella after she accuses him of rape? Why is it unforgivable for him to feel sorry for her in the first place?
Chew on This
By associating Atticus with both justice and with compassion, To Kill a Mockingbird suggests that the two ideas are not mutually exclusive.
Compassion can sometimes be dangerous: Tom's compassion for Mayella and Atticus's compassion for Ewell gets both of them into trouble.