5 December 2014
The Wisdom of Atticus Finch in the Tom Robinson Trial
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee depicts the life of young Scout Finch growing up during the Great Depression in the town of Maycomb County, Alabama. Scout’s father, Atticus raised his children to grow up respecting their own and others individualism. Racism in this novel and during this era is clearly evident in parts of the United States including Maycomb County. Due to Atticus’ beliefs he is compelled to defend the wrongly accused African American, Tom Robinson, which was proven to be wise of him despite the drawbacks his family would ultimately face. During the 1930’s the town of Maycomb demonstrated segregation between the whites and blacks. "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" (Lee Chapter 10). In our world there are different types of courage: physical, intellectual and moral. Arguably, moral courage is the most important type of bravery, which is what Atticus possessed. No doubt, Atticus knew he was not going to win the Tom Robinson case due to color of Tom’s skin. Atticus, a man of integrity and moral courage, could not deny the offer to defend Tom because Atticus values his beliefs in equality and justice. According to not only Atticus but also the Declaration of Independence, all men are created equal, so therefore just because Tom Robinson is black, does not mean that Atticus should not defend him. “You know the truth and the truth is: some Negros lie, some Negros are immoral, some Negro men are not to be trusted around women-black or white. But this is a truth that applies to the human race and to no particular race of men. There is not a person in this courtroom who has never told a lie, who has never done an immoral thing and there is no man who has ever looked at a women without desire” (Lee Chapter 20). Atticus defends Tom honorably, fairly and ultimately to the best of his capability. Without having an ounce of integrity, a man becomes weak and impotent and therefore no longer can support his family and/or community. By understanding that honesty and gaining the trust of others are the most important qualities of Atticus’ integrity, taking on the Tom Robinson case represents Atticus’ wisdom and courageousness because he does the job that people are unwilling or afraid to do. “Grandma says it’s bad enough he lets you all run wild. But now he’s turned out a nigger-lover we’ll never be able to walk the streets of Maycomb again. He’s ruinin’ the family, that’s what he’s doin’ ” (Lee Chapter 9). Due to the Tom Robinson trial Atticus is putting his family in danger and causing them embarrassment. Many of his family members are mortified to even be walking on the streets. How is it wise for Atticus to put his life at risk for one individual whom he barely knows? Bob Ewell, is one of the members of Macomb’s poorest family and is referred to as “trash” by the characters in the book. Bob Ewell makes an appearance in this novel during the Tom Robinson case. He is known for the wrongful accusation that Tom Robinson raped his daughter, Mayella. Despite the injustice of the verdict, Ewell feels as though Atticus made a fool out of him in court and is determined to pursue revenge on Atticus. Unquestionably, Atticus knew that he was putting his whole family in danger due to the fact that Bob Ewell is known to be a racist and a drunk. Bob Ewell pursued his revenge on Scout and Jem, by assaulting them on their way home one night, and knowing this, Atticus still responded to this circumstance with empathy, even when Bob Ewell spat him on. "Jem, see if you can stand in Bob Ewell's shoes a minute. I destroyed his last shred of credibility at that trial, if he had any to begin with. The man had to have some kind of comeback, his kind always does. So if spitting in my face and threatening me saved Mayella Ewell one extra beating, that's something I'll gladly take. He had to take it out on somebody and I'd rather it be me than that houseful of children out there. You understand?" (Lee Chapter 23). Due to the trial, Atticus is being put through difficulties that he is willing to face in order to pursue justice for Tom Robinson and by understanding that not everyone had an ideal upbringing and not everyone should be held responsible for not knowing any better. Despite the fact that Atticus is causing his family difficulty he is teaching not only his children but also the citizens of Maycomb a very valuable life lesson. Growing up, most of us were taught the “Golden Rule” which is to treat others the way you want to be treated. Furthermore, based on the evidence, Atticus knows that Tom Robinson is innocent. In addition to that, Atticus believes that a justice system should be “color-blind”, so clearly, regardless of what people will say Atticus will defend Tom Robinson just as equally as if he was defending a white person. "This case, Tom Robinson's case, is something that goes to the essence of a man's conscience-Scout, I couldn't go to church and worship God if I didn't try to help that man” (Lee Chapter 9). Therefore, if Atticus did otherwise he would feel like a hypocrite. How could he expect his children to behave correctly if he was setting a bad example? "She was white, and she tempted a Negro. She did something that in our society is unspeakable: she kissed a black man. Not an old Uncle, but a strong young Negro man. No code mattered to her before she broke it, but it came crashing down on her afterwards" (Lee Chapter 20). Atticus is wise for defending Tom Robinson because he is not only exposing Maycomb of their bigotry but introducing them to the concept of racial equality as well. As Fredrick Douglas once said, “A gentleman will not insult me, and no man not a gentleman can insult me.” This is a standard Atticus lives by due to the treatment Bob Ewell gave to him. Despite the minor setbacks that Atticus and his family faced, and the fact that Tom Robinson was guilty, the trial was proven to be successful because Atticus exposed Maycomb of their ignorance and their wrongful racial ideologies. Even though the decision was unpopular by his friends and family, making the honorable decision to defend Tom Robinson demonstrates the wisdom Atticus posseses.