I'm a 9th grader who is completely new to essays, and well, English class in general. I have my first draft of an essay on To Kill A Mockingbird. Please read through it and tell me how I can improve, I'll take as much criticism as necessary :)
The question is simply:
Do you agree with Atticus's advice to Scout?
"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view -- ... until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."
Atticus's valuable advice
Empathy is a unique ability that all humans alike possess. It allows us to connect with others and understand their thinking. You can never truly comprehend someone until you empathize with their thoughts and emotions. Martin Luther King Jr. could not have peacefully won the war of racism if people didn't care. Because people cared, because they had empathy, the world finally accepted and understood African-Americans , thus lifting the Jim Crow laws. Empathy and compassion are what separates us from other creatures, and connect us as a species. In the classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, walking in another person's skin is one of the first things Scout Finch learns. Her father teaches her a great deal, most notably telling her "[y]ou never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view ... until you climb into his skin and walk around in it" (Lee, 30). Scout should clearly accept this advice. Climbing into someone else's skin allows individuals to let go of their personal feelings; to see the greater truth. Furthermore, it enables people to not falsely prejudge one another by first impressions, and lets them consider their actions in order to consider others.
First, climbing into another's skin helps people to let go of personal feelings to see the greater truth. Sometimes, strong emotions can cloud that sense of truth. In the novel, following the death of the elderly Ms. Dubose, Atticus said " '[y]ou know, [Ms.Dubose] was a great lady' ... 'A lady?' Jem raise his head, His face was scarlet, 'After all those things she said about you?' " (Lee, 112). Ms. Dubose called Atticus some very dysphemistic names. However, instead of being offended, he commemorates her as a great lady. This is because Atticus knew that Ms. Dubose had the courage to conquer her morphine addiction before her death, making her the bravest person Atticus ever knew. Acknowledging Ms. Dubose's behaviour was caused by her addiction, Atticus put aside his anger for her and chose to see the bigger picture: Ms. Dubose was a courageous woman. In the same light, when Bob Ewell "cursed [Atticus], spat on him, and threatened to kill him" (Lee, 218) after the court case (in which Atticus stripped Ewell of his credibility), Atticus walked away unprovoked. When Jem asked Atticus about his actions, he replied "Jem, see if you can stand in Bob Ewell's shoes for just a minute ... if spitting in my face and threatening me saved Mayela Ewell one extra beating, that's something I'll gladly take ... I'd rather it be me than that houseful of children out there" (Lee, 218). Atticus knew Bob Ewell was a revengeful man; he needed let his anger out. In this situation, Atticus had no resentment for what Bob did because he looked beyond his own emotions. He knew that if the anger wasn't taken out on him, it would be on Bob's children (unfairly, since Atticus was the one who destroyed his reputation in the court). Atticus climbed into the shoes of Bob and the Ewells, and upon realizing that Bob's children may be in danger, he let go of his own anger and took Bob's threats on himself.
Secondly, Atticus's advice prevents us from prejudging people without knowing the full context of the story. Climbing into everyone's skin and understanding every point of view in a situation prevents us from making false assumptions by first impressions. This can be seen in the very beginning of the novel, when Ms. Caroline told Scout "[y]our father does not know how to teach, You can have a seat now" (Lee, 17). Upon discovering that Scout was literate, Ms. Caroline presumed that Atticus taught her how to read, and in addition taught her wrong. In reality, Scout simply picked up the skill when Atticus read to her every night. Moreover, by commanding Scout to have a seat, she was not open to further discussion, and therefore did not want to understand Scout's full story. This wound up upsetting Scout. If Ms. Caroline had climbed into Scout's skin and thoroughly understood the situation, she would not have misjudged Scout nor upset her. On the same day, Scout attempted to convince Ms. Caroline that Walter Cunningham could not accept the lunch money she offered him, since Cunninghams in Maycomb never took what they couldn't pay back. Frustrated, Ms. Caroline whipped Scout with a ruler, hindering her further. After Atticus tells Scout his advice about climbing into another's skin, Scout realized that her actions were "an honest mistake" (Lee, 30). She realized that she misjudged Ms. Caroline. By putting herself in Ms. Caroline's shoes, she recognized that she could not have been expected to know all the Maycomb families and their customs, as she was new to the town. If Scout had received this advice earlier, she would not have judged Ms. Caroline without knowing the full context of the situation.
Finally, Atticus's words let's people consider their actions in order to consider others. Oftenly, people can do things that may unintentionally affect others. If they were to consider everyone who may be affected or hurt by their actions, they may chose their actions more wisely. In one instance, Jem built a caricature snowman which resembled his neighbor, Mr. Avery. When Atticus saw this, he told Jem " '[y]ou can't go around making caricatures of neighbors' 'Ain't a caricature' said Jem ... 'Mr Avery might not think so' " (Lee, 67). Atticus considered that this might offend Mr. Avery. When Jem realized this, he immediately covered it up with a hat. Therefore, if Jem had known that it might have hurt Mr. Avery, he would have never built the caricature snowman, since he would have considered his actions and the effect it could have on Mr. Avery. Likewise, when Jem, Scout and Dill tried to "[put Mr. Radley's] life on display for the edification of the neighborhood" (Lee, 49) (ie. make fun of him), Atticus told them to "stop tormenting that man ... whatever Mr. Radley did was his own business" (Lee, 49). Atticus respected Boo Radley's privacy, and attempted to teach the children to do the same, which they then understood. So, if they had known this earlier, they would have respected Boo's privacy and not made fun of him.
In conclusion, a profound understanding of one another is what makes the world go round. As seen in To Kill A Mockingbird, this sense of empathy was vital to the story. It helped Atticus let go of his own emotions to see what was beyond him. It could have let people such as Ms. Caroline and Scout not misjudge each other. Lastly, it allowed Dill, Jem and Scout consider everyone who could be affected by their actions. It is evident that the advice Atticus has given Scout can transform her understanding of others as she matures into an adult. In this world, those who inspire empathy are more potent than those who incite conflict, and those people can make real change.
Also, do I have to source the bit on Martin Luther King Jr, as it is a historical fact?