Isocrates' The Educated Man versus Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird

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The Greek philosopher Isocrates describes the characteristics of an ideal citizen in his essay, “The Educated Man”. From his point of view an educated man is not one who has pursued higher education but one who has good character and contributes to his society. In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch is portrayed as an educated man because he has excellent morals and knows how to conduct himself. Atticus and the “educated man” are both the ideal and perfect members of a community and family. They are strong-minded, charismatic, and honorable – traits that most people strive for. The diction that Harper Lee uses when describing Atticus Finch helps create the image of the perfect and educated man.
Isocrates addresses the fact that an educated man has self-restraint and is always in control of his actions. An educated man never lets temperament, selfishness, or weakness overcome himself. One’s ability to carry himself in a honorable fashion is imperative for being a true educated man. Isocrates established a school of rhetoric is 392 B.C. that taught the art of persuasion to orators. From Isocrates’ perspective, an educated man is “not duly overcome by [his] misfortunes, bearing up under them bravely”. (line 9-10) By persuading others, an educated man can win arguments, or judicial trials in Atticus’ case, without having to be ill-mannered. When Atticus loses Tom Robinson’s case he doesn’t blame the jury for being prejudice or even Bob and Mayella Ewell for lying. Atticus stays calm under pressure and during stressful times. Later, when Atticus discuses Tom's death with Aunt Alexandria, he tells her that: “I told him what I thought, but I couldn’t in truth say that we had more than a good chance. I guess Tom was tired of taking white man’s chances and preferred to take his own.” (p. 235-236) Atticus knows that killing Tom Robinson was unnecessary and that they would have had a good chance with a better jury. However, he does not lose his temper and continues to think clearly. Even with all the things that he and his family have had to endure, he understands that violence or revenge will not solve any of his problems. It is in this way that he is an educated man.
Another characteristic of an educated man is that he is able to endure things he feels is distasteful.

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An educated man can move past things that he disagrees with and will not argue over small detail. In his essay, Isocrates states that an educated man "tolerat[es] easily and good-naturedly what is unpleasant or offensive." (line 6) An educated man’s ability to get along with his peers is critical. Atticus demonstrates this skill after he loses the trial. Bob Ewell comes up to him, spits on him, and threatens to kill him. Atticus says to Scout and Jem that he “wish[es] Bob Ewell wouldn’t chew tobacco,” (p. 217) Atticus tolerates Mr. Ewell’s bad behavior because he knows that revenge will only bring him down to Mr. Ewell’s level. Even after being spat on, Atticus has the willpower to ignore Bob Ewell. By disregarding Bob Ewell entirely Atticus shows good judgment and foresight, virtues of a truly educated man.
An educated man must also have the ability to stay humble no matter what successes may come his way. He would not become conceited or have a big ego. From Isocrates’ point of view, an educated man is "not spoiled by successes and [would not] desert [his] true sel[f] and become arrogant, but hold [his] ground steadfastly as intelligent men." (lines 11-13) Being practical is a key characteristic of an educated man. He must also respect himself and others and be open-minded. However, in being open minded an educated man cannot abandon his values. Harper Lee shows that this is true for Atticus when Scout gets in a fight with Cecil Jacobs, one of her classmates, because he accuses Atticus of defending an African-American. Cecil Jacobs only has this opinion because of his father and is therefore only supporting what he hears and not what he himself believes. Atticus explains that he is defending Tom Robinson and that he believes there is nothing wrong with it. Atticus tells Scout: "They're certainly entitled to think that, and they're entitled to full respect for their opinions," he said, "but before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."(p. 105) Unlike Cecil Jacobs, Atticus is not swayed by the thoughts of the community. He develops his own opinion from the values that he was taught and will not give in to the town’s pressuring. He is strong and brave enough to hold his ground even if it means going against the town’s general consensus.
In his essay, “The Educated Man”, Isocrates lists the characteristics necessary for a person who is wise and intelligent. Isocrates also says that in order to be a completely educated man one must have all of the essential qualities. In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch meets all of Isocrates’ criteria. He has self-control and the abilities to tolerate others and defend his own values, even if he is in the minority. He acts as a perfect example of an educated man, as described by Isocrates.


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