To Kill a Mockingbird quotes, many coming from Atticus Finch, have filled the bulletin boards of high schools across the nation for decades. Harper Lee’s novel about post-slavery Southern racism is, quite possibly, the most widely read novel in the American canon. It’s accessible enough to a child to read, yet complicated enough for an adult to grapple with.
Even just looking over quotes from To Kill a Mockingbird, it’s easy to see why. Harper had an incredible insight into the human mind. Lee understood the way that we relate to each other and how the core of overcoming racism and other social prejudices lied in making personal decisions about being inclusive in our worldview toward others. It’s a struggle that Atticus reflected in the trial central the book’s plot.
Although many claimed that Finch’s character was destroyed by certain details that came out in To Kill a Mockingbird’s sequel, Go Set a Watchmen, the quotes that come his mouth are perhaps the best remembered. Harper instilled Atticus with an unwavering intelligence that made him a hero to many.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
How could these quotes not be so beloved after all? To Kill a Mockingbird is anchored around the dichotomy between the wisdom of age and the loss of the naivety of youth. Finch, Scout, and Lee’s voices all work together to offer these philosophical pearls.
“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”
“Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win.”
“Before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself.”
“You just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don’t you let ’em get your goat. Try fighting with your head for a change.”
“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.”
Of course, To Kill a Mockingbird isn’t the only place that Harper sewed her smart statements. Aside from Atticus, she was also known for the quotes that came from her infrequent interviews. Lee showed time and time again that she didn’t need to Finch to express a thought-provoking idea.
“Writing is a process of self-discipline you must learn before you can call yourself a writer. There are people who write, but I think they’re quite different from people who must write.”
“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”
“I never expected any sort of success with ‘Mockingbird’… I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement.”
Did we miss your favorite To Kill a Mockingbird quote? Post a comment on whatever wise words of Atticus Finch, Scout, or Harper Lee herself you think got left out.
[Photo by Damian Dovarganes/AP]