Ignorance breeds hate, hate breeds violence, violence dismantles humanity. In To Kill A Mockingbird, ignorance leads to a vicious mob mentality among the members of Maycomb, Alambama and a community taking justice into its own hands resulting in the death of an innocent man and the attempted murder of two innocent children. We as a society like to believe that we understand right and wrong and that we can uphold the values that serve a community best, but as our history illustrates, progression hardly ever stems from group thought. It is the action and leadership of an individual or a small collective that moves us beyond the strongholds of tradition into a new era of thought and action. The problem though is that it is cyclical. One great leader moves us forward only for us to get stuck in that realm of thought until the next one comes along. We are sheep, allowing ourselves to be herded into whatever direction our Shepherd leads us. This cycle is never broken because of the bliss in ignorance. With knowledge comes responsibility and with responsibility comes struggle. Atticus Finch, his children Scout and Jem, and their reclusive neighbor Mr. Arthur (Boo) Radley, demonstrate that knowledge, understanding, empathy, and the ability to think for oneself are invaluable assets that allow a person to be an individual outside of the roles of either shepherd or sheep.
Atticus is a very well-educated man who uses logic and reason, backed with an overwhelming empathy for all people, to defend and protect innocence and justice. He has every right to condemn those that threaten either, but he does not. Instead he pities them. He demonstrates the peace, prosperity, and fulfillment in the abolishment of ignorance and invites everyone to join him, most explicitly in his closing statement to the jury at the end of Tom’s trial. Atticus gives no validation to the actions committed out of ignorance. The mob desire to carry out “Southern Justice” on their own is refuted by Atticus until the jury’s guilty verdict. The white community’s refusal to listen to Atticus and to Tom was caused by the indoctrinated, racist idea that the white are always virtuous, or at least more virtuous than the black, and that being black is already a state of guilt.
High end education is not the only path that can lead to this enlightenment. Boo Radley is able to grow as an individual by pure observation. He is removed from society entirely (not exactly by choice) and has had ample time to watch, and think about the actions of those he observes. As Scout and Jem illustrate, observation with the addition of experience can also afford a person the same understanding and ability. They learn through interaction. Scout learned the power of appealing one’s humanity in the face of violence when she spoke to Mr. Cunningham, calling him by name and mentioning an act of kindness he performed for her family.
Critical thinking and compassion allows an individual so many opportunities in every aspect of their lives. One must think, empathize, investigate, confirm and contest, not just swallow and regurgitate. There is no progress in blind repetition.