Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird was published in the year of 1960, and is one of the few American classic novels awarded the Pulitzer Prize. The racism that is prevalent in many southern American towns in the 1930s is brought to life with profound imagery in To Kill a Mockingbird. There are several characters in the book, yet the true main character is the narrator's father, Atticus Finch
. He is a man of great integrity and intelligence. A very heroic figure in more ways than one, Atticus possesses traits like being principled, determined, and, more importantly, he teaches others. When looking at To Kill a Mockingbird
, one can see that Lee uses lots of description, dialogue, and actions to portray Atticus as a heroic individual.
The most important thing Atticus teaches in To Kill a Mockingbird is the message about how to best educate a child. From the beginning of the book, it's plain to see that Atticus has been down on his luck most of his life. "It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyways and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do"(124). He strives to give Scout and Jem spirit, bravery and tolerance of others. "If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view--until you climb into his skin and walk around in it" (30). He teaches this life lesson to show that it's actually achievable to live with principles without losing sight of hope or acting skeptical. Atticus is able to highly regard Mrs. Dubose's courage
even though he disapproves of her continuous acts of racism. "She had her own views about things, a lot different from mine, maybe...son, I told you that if you hadn't lost your head I'd have made you go read to her. I wanted you to see something about her-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" (128).
Scout's change of maturity level is defined by a progression towards understanding Atticus' life lessons, which halt at the ending chapters of the book when Scout recognizes Boo Radley as a human being. After the night when Bob Ewell's life ends, Boo Radley exposes himself as a kindhearted man who Scout can relate with. Scout is being taught very well by Atticus, academically and morally. Atticus already knows how to lead a successful life and is more than eager to show his daughter the "how he do."
Lack of agreement among situations in Maycomb is what forces Atticus to remain consistent in his views. "Atticus Finch is the same in his house as he is on the public streets" (46). No matter what he applies it to, his "code of conduct" stays the same. That's one of the many reasons he feels the need to accept Tom Robinson's case and defend him as best as he can. Otherwise, he would see himself as a hypocritical schlub. "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" (104). Yet Atticus seems composed and maybe somewhat conservative, several beliefs he holds are quite extreme. He allows the black cook/maid, Calpurnia, to be a real member of the family and gives her full respect always. When Cal takes Jem and Scout her church, Aunt Alexandra throws a fit, though Atticus seems most unchanged. Never once does he falter or think ill of people. Atticus is convincing and authentic. He passes down wisdom to the children about controversial subjects, such as racism. "When a child asks you something, answer him for goodness' sake. But don't make a production of it. Children are children, but they can spot an evasion quicker than adults, and evasions simply muddle 'em" (74). Atticus is daring and sincere with Scout and Jem, but to himself also. Atticus' wife died when the children are two and six-years-old, so he has to carry on without the aid of a wife to keep the kids in line. The ethics Atticus has faith in seem true and hold a lot of meaning. He will stop at nothing to stand out and speak up for what he believes in all of the time.
As it was mentioned earlier, Atticus has a very demanding career. Tom Robinson, the young man Atticus defends, pays for the ignorant and hurtful stereotypes that are made in Maycomb every day. There is the fear of black male sexuality, brought about by stories of white women being raped and beaten by black men. "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, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash" (220). When the Ewell's charge Tom with rape, his decisions come not from facts of life, but the general classification and stereotypes of Maycomb. "The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow, but people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box" (220). Others don't take the time to understand Tom, instead fearing and distrusting him. Tom isn't the only race in Maycomb that is victimized, however.
Dolphus Raymond is a prime example of the town's lack of judgment. Dolphus has been labeled as a drunk who lives among the black community. When Dill and Scout sit and talk with him, they find the only beverage he "abuses" is Coca-Cola. Basically, the entire town believes that some people should just be completely ignored, yet sometimes they forget look at what's right under their noses.
During the trial, Atticus questions Tom and it's unveiled that Bob Ewell physically, emotionally, and sexually abuses the Ewell children, including Mayella. After Tom is wrongfully accused of rape, Bob and the entire Ewell family are seen as a bunch of liars. "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" (215). After the case is over, Bob intimidates the people he thinks have wronged him. Atticus, being one of them, receives various threats and a wad of saliva in his face. "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" (211). Bob Ewell's children should be glad to have a man that cares about what happens to them. That is, if you don't count Mr. Ewell, who couldn't care less about the children. Atticus cares for others, which makes him even more courageous.
Because of his decisions, Atticus is strong through his characterization in the book. Atticus forgets about the disadvantage he has in Tom's trial and teaches others all he's got. He never gets worn and weary throughout To Kill a Mockingbird, and signifies his own influence in the novel. This is important because he represents the people of Maycomb, Jem, Scout, the entire Robinson family, and all the other ambiguous and obvious mockingbirds of the town. Atticus Finch proves himself a great father, lawyer, companion, and friend. The acts of heroism shown by Atticus rescues Maycomb from digging their grave any deeper than it already is. Because of this, he does the town justice and shows everyone that both he and his progeny deserve better than what they were given, but still do the best with what they have.