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Parents, whether good or bad, are the most influential people in a child's life. In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, the parent-child relationships the author offers demonstrate the effects of good and bad parental role models. The town of Maycomb, Alabama, consists of many tight knit families looking out for each other. The impact of other people on the children of these families may be great, but the strongest influences, or lack thereof, belong to the parents. To Kill a Mockingbird utilizes the relationships of Scout and Atticus; Mayella and Bob Ewell; and Dill and his father to demonstrate that children look to their parents for moral guidance, lessons which affect their futures.
In the case of Scout and Atticus, good moral guidance results in fine decisions and actions. Atticus instills a strong sense of morality and justice into both of his children, and he is totally dedicated to them. Atticus always has a sense of doing what is right and tries to get Scout to do the same. When Jem starts to undergo puberty, he instructs Scout to start acting more like a woman, which irritates Scout. Scout looks to Atticus for some advice and tells Scout to "consider things from his point of view" (39). Atticus understands that Scout is young but teaches her that people should not judge but try to be compassionate towards others by stepping in their shoes. Scout addresses her father "Atticus," an action many people would see as a sign of disrespect, but they both love each other. It is shown that she loves him when Cecil Jacobs tells Scout that Atticus "defends niggers" (99). After she gets in trouble, Atticus asks her not to think with her fists, but Scout says that "[she] could take being a coward for him" (102). Scout feels extremely proud fighting for Atticus because even though he does not ask much of her she feels good for being able to help him. Atticus's lessons have turned Scout into a better, and more respectful person by teaching her to control her emotions.
In contrast to Scout and Atticus's relationship, Mayella and her father's relationship has taken a turn for the worst since Mayella does not have a proper father figure. The Ewells are one of the town's least respected families. The family, which has around ten children, lives behind a dump. During the trial of Tom Robinson, the Ewells' family lifestyle is revealed to the whole town. When Atticus questions Tom, the town finds out that Bob and Mayella's relationship is an abusive and a sexual one. Tom tells Atticus that "she never kissed a grown man beforeâ€¦an' what her papa do to her don't count" (260). Mayella reveals that Bob still abuses her because she states "what her papa do to her" in the present instead of past tense. Mayella is crying out for someone to care for her because she cannot rely on Bob since he constantly gets drunk and wanders around town. Because of the trial, the Ewells' social status falls even lower and Mayella's future is ruined because Bob's private actions are now revealed. Bob's abuse to Mayella also caused an innocent man to die.
Another relationship in the story is that of Dill and his father, which reveals that a lack of a father figure can also influence a child's life. Dill's relationship is stronger with his friends than with his father. After he leaves Maycomb for a while, he eventually runs away from home before the trial and ends up at Scout's house. While they talk, Dill tells Scout that his father remarried and "they just weren't interested in himâ€¦and they didn't want [Dill] with them" (190). Dill's lack of a relationship with his birth father has driven him away from his hometown, and has left him with an uncertain future as he finds comfort and guidance from Scout and Jem until he can find an appropriate role model.
A large majority of children in the world look up to an authority figure. In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, she gives examples of different effects of different ways of parenting. The relationships between Atticus and Scout, Dill and his father, and Mayella and Bob Ewell show that the lessons learned or not learned, affect the recipient and can either help them become a good or bad person. These relationships make people think about whether having a parent who teaches bad morals is better than not having a parent at all.