Author: Harper Lee
Plot Summary: In Harper Lee’s classic novel, the narrator, Scout (five years old at the story’s beginning), describes the events surrounding her father’s defense of an African American man charged with raping a young white woman, portraying the world of the Deep South of the 1930s.
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Discussion Questions

The novel can inspire exploration of many philosophical questions, including:

  • What is the relationship between intellect and character?
  • What is the meaning of justice?
  • What is the nature of goodness?
  • What role does moral imagination play in our efforts to define ourselves?


“Do you really think so?”

This was the second time I heard Atticus ask that question in two days, and it meant somebody’s man would get jumped. This was too good to miss. I broke away from Jem and ran as fast as I could to Atticus.

Jem shrieked and tried to catch me, but I had a lead on him and Dill. I pushed my way through dark smelly bodies and burst into the circle of light.

“H-ey, Atticus!”

Discussion questions

What makes Scout run to Atticus?

Does Scout demonstrate courage in this passage, or does she act from instinct? 

Can acting from instinct involve courage?


Atticus got up from his chair, but he was moving slowly, like an old man. He put the newspaper down very carefully, adjusting its creases with lingering fingers. They were trembling a little.

“Go home, Jem,” he said. “Take Scout and Dill home.”

We were accustomed to prompt, if not always cheerful acquiescence to Atticus’s instructions, but from the way he stood Jem was not thinking of budging.

“Go home, I said.”

Jem shook his head. As Atticus’s fists went to his hips, so did Jem’s, and as they faced each other I could see little resemblance between them: Jem’s soft brown hair and eyes, his oval face and snug-fitting ears were our mother’s, contrasting oddly with Atticus’s graying black hair and square-cut features, but they were somehow alike. Mutual defiance made them alike.

“Son, I said go home.”

Jem shook his head.

Discussion questions

Why does Jem refuse to leave?

What kind of a person does Jem seem to be? Atticus? Scout?

Do we decide to be certain kinds of people or are we made that way?


“I’ve been taking all these philosophy courses, and we talk about what’s true, what’s important, what’s good. Well, how do you teach people to be good?” And she added: “What’s the point of knowing good, if you don’t keep trying to become a good person?” 

From Robert Coles, “The Disparity between Intellect and Character”

Discussion questions

What is the relationship between intellect and character?

Is character higher than intellect?

What makes someone a good person?

Why do we do good things?