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Standing in a Persons Shoes – To Kill A Mockingbird May 1, 2009

Posted by KJ theBookGirl in Analyse, GCSE, History, KJ, read, theBookGirl, To Kill a Mockingbird.
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To Kill a MockingbirdThe best way to understand a person is “to stand in his or her shoes”. How does the author effectively illustrate this point in the novel?

To Kill a Mockingbird is arguably the journey that Scout Finch makes growing up, which is essentially her journey of learning new values, morals and compassion through experience and practice.


Standing in a person’s shoes is one of the first things Atticus explains to Scout in the novel, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.” This is said in chapter three. Atticus is explaining how the things that went wrong on her first day of school (Miss Caroline finding Scout impertinent for correcting her, speaking bluntly about the pupils and being able to read, as well as the episode with Walter Cunningham) could have been avoided or at least made better.

Despite the early introduction to this lesson, Scout doesn’t fully understand it, or at least learn it, until the very last chapter when she finally meets Boo Radley, and stands on his porch thinking about the compilation of events which make up the book, from Boo’s point of view, “Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.” This shows the understanding Scout has finally had of the way people are perceived and the way they actually are. It shows that she has learnt what many people in their life never learn – to have empathy for others. This then puts Scout, still a child really, in a position where she is much wiser than many of the residents of Maycomb who did not put themselves in any of the “Mockingbirds’” shoes during the course of events of the story. If, for example, the white community had honestly put themselves in Tom Robinson’s shoes he would have been found not guilty (or at least he may have had more hope for the appeal and not tried to escape from the jail). If they had stepped in Mayella’s shoes they may have found that Bob Ewell was really the guilty one, or that her evidence really can’t be used at all against Robinson.

A significant character, who is prejudged by the children before they stepped in her shoes, is Mrs. Dubose. As a recovering drug addict she is most definitely nasty, malicious, harsh and opinionated to say the least, but the children only observe this without understanding why. During chapter eleven (the last chapter before Jem has significantly started to grow up, and possibly the catalyst for this) Jem gets fed up of the taunts Mrs. Dubose makes at him about Atticus defending Tom Robinson, amongst other things. He loses sight of his noble aim to “hold hid head high and be a gentleman” and reacts by breaking the stems of all the flowers in Mrs. Dubose’s garden. Clearly this action has its consequences and in this we see how courageous Mrs Dubose is being, trying to give up the drug straight off. If Jem had understood and thought about this before reacting to her, he would have not have been forced to read to her for this reason, and he would have felt more compassion towards her than he did.

Another case of Atticus reiterating his point about seeing things from someone else’s perspective is when Jem makes a snowman to look like Mr Avery in chapter 8. Jem is very proud with his creation, “‘It’s lovely Jem,’ I said… ‘It is, ain’t it?’ he said shyly” this shows how Jem is very pleased with the likeness of the snowman, and is looking at it from the perspective of himself, as an artist. However, when Atticus sees it he says, “‘You can’t go around making caricatures of the neighbours’” and when Jem disagrees that it is a caricature, Atticus replies, “‘Mr Avery might not think so.” Showing that Atticus always sees it from everyone’s point of view. He is tactful, complimenting Jem first, but he makes sure that Jem does sort it out before it can actually hurt Mr Avery. This shows the consistency of Atticus’ morals and of the lessons which Scout and Jem need to learn as they grow up. It also shows how Atticus is always considerate and understanding of everyone, perhaps an aspect to him which makes him such a great lawyer.

An interesting example of standing in someone’s shoes is when Boo stands in Scout’s shoes. His care and concern for her (and Jem) is evident throughout the novel, such as in chapter 8 when Boo puts a blanket around Scout, “Boo Radley. You were so busy looking at the fire you didn’t know it when he put the blanket around you” This shows that Boo looks after the children, and this could be interpreted as standing in Scout’s shoes as the reader can see that he is thinking what it must be like from her point of view, and then doing what he can to help her, which people who talk to her and live with her don’t think of doing. This is especially prominent in the last chapter when Scout stands on his porch and she realises how he has watched “his children” – Jem and Scout – over the course of the novel. At the beginning of the novel, Scout and Jem don’t stand in Boo’s shoes, automatically believing the gossip surrounding the Radley’s place.  

Another example of standing in someone’s shoes is in chapter 12 when Jem and Scout are at Calpurnia’s church. They have the opportunity to actually stand where Cal does each week and experience a part of her life away from the white community. In this chapter they learn a lot about how the black community lives and this helps them understand the importance of Tom Robinson being found not guilty. “You all know of Brother Tom Robinson’s trouble…the collection taken up today and for the next three Sundays will go to Helen – his wife, to help her out at home.” This shows that the black community are thinking about Tom and Helen’s predicament and are stepping in their shoes and working out the best way to help them. The white community do not do this and only see Robinson as a member of the black community instead of an innocent husband and father. Here Jem and Scout also experience this community spirit and united support which is unusual to them as they are used to the white community’s gossip and scandals. This builds upon the lesson Atticus teaches them.

The white community already assume Tom Robinson is guilty, as he is black, and Helen is guilty by association, as she will not be able to get work and look after her children. If the white community were to stand in Helen’s shoes they would realise that it is not her fault even if Tom Robinson were guilty. Likewise, if the white community stood in the black community’s shoes like Jem and Scout did for the morning, they would probably have far less prejudices than they actually have.

Mayella’s shoes are never stepped in by the community. Her lies are half-swallowed even when all evidence contradicts them, but she is never pitied by anyone apart from the most compassionate characters, such as Tom Robinson, and this only angers the white community further, “You felt sorry for her? You felt sorry for her?” This shows how incredulously the statement is considered and how unexpected it is for a member of the black community (no matter who it is) to pity a member of the white community. This could be seen as Tom Robinson recognising another Mockingbird and wanting to help her, but is more likely just that Robinson is a kind and innocent character who wants to help people no matter what the risk, much like Atticus. Ironically it is partially this which finally causes Robinson’s guilty verdict.

Mayella is thought of as just “white trash” but when her shoes are actually stepped in, it can be seen that she is actually a lonely, unloved young girl who wants company and to be wanted herself. If someone had recognized this and actually acted upon it, helping her to become a distinguished lady, such as Scout will have the opportunity to become, it may have ultimately saved Tom Robinson’s life as she would not have introduced the whole problem with the “love” between the black man and white girl.

 Hope this was useful

theBookGirl KJ




1. arahis Johnson - February 19, 2010

i absoulty LOVE this book & movie – it was awsomee ❤

KJ theBookGirl - February 19, 2010

Me too 🙂
Thanks for stopping by!

2. jack - March 27, 2010

thanks for the help all i did was copy and past and i got a 90 on it

Jered - May 10, 2016

That is plagiarism

3. Katie - May 31, 2010

Wow you are so smart 🙂 I’m writing an essay on ignorance and prejudice and this really helped !

4. renee - June 3, 2010

is that really appropriate and fair jack?

5. renee - June 3, 2010

oh and by the way, i loved the book and found your analysis of the theme very interesting
good job 🙂

6. Kaitlin - December 8, 2011

wow. this really helped me with an essay outline. and no i did not wirte it word for word. thanks for the help 😀

7. David - June 7, 2012

Thanks so much, got alot of inspiration!

8. branded men shoes in Uae - September 16, 2012

You are so interesting! I don’t suppose I’ve truly read anything like this before.
So good to find another person with some unique thoughts on this topic.

Seriously.. thank you for starting this up. This site is one thing that is required on the internet, someone with a little originality!

9. K - November 19, 2012

This is a really fantastic analysis of one of the biggest themes of the book — thanks so much for writing it. It was a pleasure to read it and thinking about what I consider to be quite possibly the great American novel. 🙂

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Thanks for finally writing about >Standing in a Persons Shoes – To Kill A Mockingbird theBookGirl <Liked it!

11. Katelyn - February 19, 2013

Thank you so much! This information really helped me on an essay I had to do! I didn’t write it word from word! I used my own words but your examples really helped me! 🙂

12. Katelyn - February 19, 2013

And Jack…That is plagiarism…I would hope you never do that again. It’s wrong and rude and mainly just disrespectful! This may be the internet but that doesn’t mean you can just go and steal peoples work.

ggg - November 7, 2014

Did you give her credit (Works Cited?) in your essay?

If no, then you also plagiarized.

13. Orion - March 27, 2013

Great analysis! Helped me write my own! (I put everything into my own words of course) Really awesome!! Thanks!

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24. Do You Have Mighty Big Shoes to Fill? - August 27, 2015

[…] than spending time and effort to fit into someone else’s shoes, maybe it is time you find a pair of your own. You never know you may be the person someone else […]

25. karla - November 10, 2015

Thanks for help me

26. GG - January 9, 2016

Thank you so much this is very helpful for my project on motifs in To Kill a Mockingbird!!! I like how you gave examples from the book that didn’t directly say that it was different perspectives, I didn’t think of those!!!

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33. To Kill a Mockingbird Chapters 1-9 – I Would Rather be Reading - February 25, 2018

[…] Atticus’s moral guidance on page 33 to Scout about, “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.” is related to “secret lives” because it means that a person does not know what someone else is going through to act a certain way. For example, Boo Radley lives a “secret life” because no one knows what he does everyday inside of his house. When Scout questions and makes fun of Boo Radley’s situation, Atticus explains that in Boo’s point of view, it might be normal and that there is a reason why he is inside all day. This is why no one understands Boo Radley. Brent Staples (link to article our class read written by him) would probably agree with Atticus in how one does not understand a person until they walk in their skin. In Staple’s article, it describes occurrences where people misjudge Staples and assume he is a bad person instead of walking in his skin to see how he is being judged. Staples would think that the book TKAM is accurate to events that happened to himself as a colored man as well. William James (link to article our class read by him, the first 12 paragraphs) would probably think that the book is accurate as well, especially the quote from Atticus about judging something before thinking about why it is the way it is. In James’s book, he wrote about how he assumed negative things about the clearings, while others had a different view due to their experience. James would probably enjoy the book as well. This is also another persons view on Atticus’s quote. […]

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35. addie - May 19, 2018

This is really helping me with my English essay. I am not copying it word for word though.

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