English Honours 11B
Miss Rachel MacNally
Character Analysis: Atticus
To Kill a Mockingbird was written by Harper Lee in 1960. It was a time in which African Americans lacked the same rights as white people. The novel is a social critique set somewhere in the 1930s. Atticus Finch is one of the major characters in the novel. He is the father of Jeremy “Jem” and Jean Louise “Scout”, he is also a lawyer in Maycomb County, Alabama. In a city reigned by social inequality and intolerance, Atticus represents justice and morality. Racism is one of the major themes in the book, since the story takes place in the 1930s. It is clear in the novel that African Americans lack the same opportunities and rights, and most of the white people treat them different, except for Atticus. Atticus tries to see things from others’ perspectives and treats everyone in the same way. Atticus is a man of principles and is constantly judged by other people for his tolerance towards African Americans calling him a “nigger-lover”. The fact is that Atticus is colorblind, so to speak. He does not care if they are white, black, red, yellow, purple, or blue, for him everyone is a human who has the same rights as everyone else. Social status is not something Atticus Finch worries about, he gives all the citizens in Maycomb the same treatment, hence earning the respect and mocks of the people living there. In chapter eleven, Atticus says “I do my best to love everybody.” (Lee 108) It is this sense of colorblindness that makes Judge Taylor appointed Tom Robinson’s rape case specifically to Atticus. Tom Robinson was an African American who was accused of raping Mayella Ewell, a seventeen-year old white girl. Perhaps even Judge Taylor knew that Tom Robinson was innocent, but it is important to recall that African Americans were always found guilty, even if the evidence pointed in a different way. Atticus believes in justice and the justice system, though he does not like criminal law. Atticus explains to Jean Louise the reason why he is willing to defend Tom Robinson. He is defending Tom Robinson not because he is an African American, but because he is innocent. According to stereotypes, lawyers are only interested in being paid; they do not really care about the case and their client. Atticus makes us have a different perspective on lawyers. He can be called as an “ideal lawyer”, he represents everything a man working in the justice system should do. He is fair, listens to both sides of the court, thus having different perspectives of the events, as well as seeing everything from different angles. Atticus applies these same principles in his house; Jean Louise says that whenever Jem and she fight, Atticus listens to both sides of the stories before reaching a solution. Atticus is an outstanding parent. He treats his children as adults but he knows that they are still kids and that they may do childish mistakes. Atticus is sincere with his children and answers all their questions, for example, he explained what “rape” was to Jean Louise. He constantly asks the question “Do you really think so?” when he wants their children to reconsider what they have stated or asked. It is an important factor that he does not adjust his speaking tone to what other people would consider is the right tone when talking to children; he talks to them as if they were mature adults. “’I’m afraid our activities would be received with considerable disapprobation by the more learned authorities.’ Jem and I were accustomed to our father’s last-will-and-testament diction, and we were at all times free to interrupt Atticus for a translation when it was beyond our understanding. ‘Huh, sir?’ ‘I never went to school,’ he said, ‘but I have a feeling that if you tell Miss Caroline we read every night she’ll get after me, and I wouldn’t want her after me.’” (Lee 32). This quote is a proof of the previous statement and also shows that Atticus is devoted to his children and takes into consideration what they want. Jean Louise explained Atticus that if going to school meant that they couldn’t read at night, then she didn’t want to go. Atticus replies by explaining why it is important to go to school. In the end they make an agreement in which Jean Louise will go to school and they will continue reading at night as long as she does not tell Miss Caroline about it. Almost at the end of the book, Atticus gives his reasons to Mr. Tate on why Jem should be tried just as anyone else. “If this thing’s hushed up it’ll be a simple denial to Jem of the way I’ve tried to raise him. Sometimes I think I’m a total failure as a parent, but I’m all they’ve got.” (Lee 273). This is Atticus maximum expression of love, respect and devotion to his son. Atticus has a very strict code of honor and tries to pass on his own values to his children. The reason why he puts much effort into the Tom Robinson’s case is not because Tom Robinson is actually an African American, but because he is innocent. As stated before, he is “colorblind”. Atticus recognizes that Calpurnia takes a very important role in the house since it is her who is practically raising the kids. In chapter three, Atticus makes Jean Louise realize how important Calpurnia is for them, “I’ve no intention of getting rid of her, now or ever. We couldn’t operate a single day without Cal, have you ever thought of that? You think about how much Cal does for you, and you mind her, you hear?” (Lee 25). Miss Maudie once told Jean Louise that “Atticus Finch is the same in his house as he is in the public street.” (Lee 46). A clear example is when he personally goes to Tom Robinson’s wife to inform her about the news of his now late husband. He does not behave like the other White people in Maycomb, perhaps anybody else would have just sent a messenger to deliver this terrible news. If there is anything that Atticus truly detests are people taking advantage over others. The only time that he seriously lectures his children is on the evils of taking advantage of those that are not so fortunate or who do not have the same level of education. "As you grow older you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it—whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, of how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.” (Lee 200). Even if Atticus is often mocked or threatened for one reason or another, he still sees only the good in people and tries to excuse their bad actions. Miss Dubose, for example, is always insulting Atticus in front of his kids. Even though Jean Louise tells Atticus about what Miss Dubose says, he excuses it by saying that she is a very old, lonely woman. After Miss Dubose’s death, he explains Jem why Miss Dubose was a lady after all and that Jem could actually learn something from her. “I wanted you to see something about her—I wanted you to see what real courage is […]. It’s when you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see through it through no matter what. She was the bravest person I ever knew.” (Lee 112). In conclusion, Atticus finch is a very righteous person with a “colorblind” code of honor. He is often mocked but is still respected by everyone and he is the man everyone goes to in times of need. As a parent, Atticus tries to teach his kids the same values he has and although he treats them as adults, he still knows they are children. In one word, Atticus is a gentleman. His sense of justice is explained through this last quote, “You know the truth, and the truth is this: some Negroes lie, some Negroes are immoral, some Negro men are not to be trusted around women— black or white. This is a truth that applies to the human race and to no particular race of men.” (Lee 204).
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. United States Of America: Lippincott Company, 1960. 281. Print. 3 Apr. 2013. Shmoop Editorial Team. "Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird" Shmoop.com. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 4 Apr. 2013. <http://www.shmoop.com/to-kill-a-mockingbird/atticus-finch.html> gemgem6969, . "To Kill a Mockingbird - Character Analysis of Atticus." (2008): n.pag. Studymode. Web. 4 Apr 2013. <http://www.studymode.com/essays/Kill-Mockingbird-Character-Analysis-Atticus-163926.html>. Smith, Nicole. "Character Analysis of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird." (2011): n.pag. ArticleMyriad. Web. 4 Apr 2013. <http://www.articlemyriad.com/analysis-atticus-finch-to-kill-mockingbird/>. "Character Analysis Atticus Finsh." To Kill a Mockingbird n.pag. CliffsNotes. Web. 4 Apr 2013. <http://www.cliffsnotes.com/study_guide/literature/to-kill-a-mockingbird/character-analysis/atticus-finch.html>.