Consider the strength required for certain characters in the novel to "stand firm in their own truth" in the face of failure and/or dangerous opposition. How do the actions of certain characters in the novel help readers recognize and learn to practice moral courage?
Ronald Reagan once said "Above all, we must realize that no arsenal, or no weapon in the arsenals of the world, is so formidable as the will and courage of free men and women." Though it is unknown if Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of America, ever read To Kill A Mockingbird
by Harper Lee, he has perfectly captured the recurring theme of moral courage in Harper Lee's novel.The persistence shown by the characters to always do what is right demonstrates to the reader the challenge of practicing moral courage in the face of difficulties. As Ronald Reagan said, moral courage and the willpower to keep doing what is right is a powerful weapon. Characters in this novel wield an incredible amount of courage and willpower to "stand firm in their own truth" in the face of difficulties, and by always doing the right thing, mockingbirds such as Atticus and Tom Robinson help readers recognize and learn to practice moral courage.
In the 1900s, when this book was published, the common belief was that in order to have courage and be brave, you had to be a man and physically fight something or someone. This notion as amplified by the return of the soldiers after the end of World War 2 in 1945. "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." . Though Atticus was explaining to Jem why he had wanted him to him to read to Mrs. Dubose, in a way, he was also explaining to his children why he had to defend Tom Robinson. Atticus understands that courage has more than one form, and that moral courage - the strength to always do what is right - is what shows the character of a person. Atticus knew that he was "licked" before he began, since no jury had ever acquitted a black man over a white man, but he defended Tom to the best of his ability regardless. He could not bring himself to give up on Tom because at his core, Atticus is a mockingbird. He lives to make life just for everyone, thereby making life easier for everyone in the long run. Through Atticus, Harper Lee is making a point that moral courage is just as heroic as physical courage.
Though moral courage is a powerful weapon, it must come hand in hand with willpower, for someone to be able to stand firm in their own truth. Moral courage is the bravery to do the right thing, whereas willpower is the sheer determination to carry through and not give up, no matter how difficult to overcome the obstacles may be.
"'The hell he is,' said another man. 'Heck's bunch's so deep in the woods they won't get out till mornin'.'
'Indeed why so?'
'Called them off on a snipe hunt,' was the succinct answer. 'Didn't you think a'that, Mr. Finch?'" .
It took an immense amount of moral strength and courage for Atticus to come and defend Tom, knowing full well the men out to get him wanted to kill him. However, it took an even greater amount of willpower for Atticus to stay put and not flee - leaving Tom to an inevitable demise. In the face of a serious threat, where Atticus could've gotten badly hurt, he faced down his opposers and stayed true to his beliefs. Atticus was willing to sacrifice himself if it meant Tom might be protected. In this scene, men are seen fighting intellectually with willpower, not with fists in a stereotypical brawl between men - common to literature in the time period. Readers recognize through this scene, that characters with moral courage also have the willpower to carry through with their actions, no matter the consequences, if it means doing what is right.
Finally, a sense of justice is needed in order to practice moral courage. In order to "stand firm in their own truth in the face of failure and/or dangerous opposition", the characters, such as Tom Robinson, must first be be able to recognize what is right and what is wrong. To do this, characters need to have strong principles of right and wrong. When Mayella Ewell offers Tom a nickel to "bust up" a chiffarobe for her, he refuses and does it for free. In the setting of To Kill A Mockingbird
, Maycomb is in the grips of the Great Depression, where an extra nickel could make the difference between dinner, or no dinner. Tom could've had an extra nickel for his family of five, however, he recognized that Mayella's family did not help her with the household chores, and that she could spare no nickel - so he worked for free. Though Tom himself was in no imminent danger when deciding to refuse the nickel, the fate of the Ewell family was. Had Tom accepted the nickel, the Ewells would not have been able to afford their next meal and would have had to scavenge food from the dump. Therefore, without the ability to recognize and do what is right, it is impossible to practice moral courage.
In conclusion, the strength required for the characters to "stand firm in their own truth" in the face of difficulties is moral courage/strength, and a strong will, and in order to practice moral courage, a sense of what is just and unjust is needed. The common belief held by readers that to be brave and be a hero you need to physically fight, is proven completely wrong with characters such as Atticus and Tom Robinson, who demonstrate courage has many forms, and that moral courage - the ability to always do what is right in the face of challenges - can be just as heroic as fighting in the Second World War. "We need men with moral courage to speak and write their real thoughts, and to stand by their convictions, even to the very death." - Robert Green Ingersoll.