Atticus Finch

An illustration of Atticus, standing in front of a courthouse.
  • Courageous.
  • Tolerant.
  • The conscience of Maycomb.

Atticus Finch is a lawyer and the father of Scout and Jem. He is a single father, his wife having died when Scout and Jem were young. He takes his responsibilities as a parent extremely seriously and encourages both Scout and Jem to be tolerant and fair minded and to always see things from the point of view of other people. Atticus can also be seen as Harper Lee’s mouthpiece as the views he expresses about the unfairness of racism and the negativity surrounding intolerance are the same as she herself held. He is almost 50 years old when the novel begins and Scout and Jem are rather embarrassed that their father is older than many other parents they know. To them he appears to be feeble as he does not play football or have a job involving physical, manual work. However, by the end of the novel both Scout and Jem have realised that their father’s bravery comes from being able to stand up for what he believes in, even when the majority of the people around him disagree with him.

Atticus behaves the same at home as he does in the town of Maycomb or when he is at work. He remains courteous throughout the novel, even when faced with negative behaviour and treats everyone politely. This is different to many Maycomb residents who treat black people with rudeness and contempt.

Courageous

How is Atticus like this?

Atticus makes sure he defends Tom Robinson with compassion and integrity. He speaks courageously on his behalf, making sure everyone at the trial is aware that Tom is innocent, even if this means he is putting himself in a difficult position among his neighbours, some of whom might turn against him due to his unprejudiced beliefs.

Evidence

“And so a quiet, respectable, humble Negro who had theunmitigated temerityto ‘feel sorry’ for a white woman has had to put his word against two white people’s.”

Analysis

Even using the word ‘respectable’ to describe a black man would have shocked many white people in court. Atticus is being brave in making it obvious that he not only believes in Tom’s innocence but that he also respects him as a man. He is also pointing out that it is wrong for people to now feel more anger towards Tom simply because he admitted to feeling sorry for a white woman; something many people living in Maycomb cannot tolerate. They feel black people are so uncivilized that they are in no position to feel sorry for anyone who is white.

Tolerant

How is Atticus like this?

Atticus is tolerant of people and he always tries to understand why people behave in the way they do. He is not judgmental and understands there are many reasons why people might say or do something, even if he does not agree with it.

Evidence

First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...

Sir?

–Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.

Analysis

Atticus is explaining to Scout that in order to truly understand a person’s behaviour and point of view, you need to empathise with them. In other words, you need to walk around in their skin, pretend to be them and try to live life as they do in order to understand how they feel.

The conscience of Maycomb

Atticus believes that all men have been created equal. He sees no difference between black and white people and does not judge people on the colour of their skin. Instead, he treats each person as an individual and does not judge them based on colour or class.

Evidence

Our courts have their faults, as does any human institution, but in this country our courts are great levellers, and in our courts all men are created equal.

Analysis

In his final speech during the trial of Tom Robinson, Atticus speaks passionately about the equality of all people. Here he is reminding members of the jury that their duty is to put aside any prejudices they may have and to judge Tom as a man and not as a black man which might lead them to automatically assume he is guilty.

Analysing the evidence

I looked around. They were standing. All around us and in the balcony on the opposite wall, the Negroes were getting to their feet. Reverend Sykes’s voice was as distant as Judge Taylor’s:

Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’.

Question

How does Harper Lee demonstrate the respect which members of the black community have for Atticus?

This passage reveals that even though Tom Robinson was found guilty, Reverend Sykes (a black minister who preaches at Calpurnia’s church) and other members of the black community still have the utmost respect for Atticus. This is because they know he believed Tom was innocent and did not assume he was guilty simply because he was black, as other lawyers might have done. They also know he did all he could to prove to the jury that Tom was innocent, no matter if this meant he ostracised himself from the other residents of Maycomb. The fact that the black people in court stand when Atticus leaves court is their way of showing their respect for him and all he has done for Tom Robinson and his family.