Characters: Atticus

Atticus Finch

Father of Jem and Scout, Atticus Finch sits on the Alabama State Legislature and acts as Maycomb's leading attorney. The epitome of moral character, Atticus teaches his children and his community how to stand up for one's beliefs in the face of prejudice and ignorance by defending a black man, Tom Robinson, wrongfully accused of raping a white woman. The voice of reason in the town of Maycomb and in the novel, Atticus dispels the wisdom and logic that is the core of the novel. He is a man that goes beyond the word tolerance; tolerance is merely to put up with something. Atticus looks at everyone and tries to understand who they are and where they are coming from. And he quietly and subtly passes on wisdom to his children about taboo subjects like racism.

Having lost his wife when Scout was two years old, Atticus devotes himself to his children despite criticism from family and neighbours who think his children lack discipline and proper guidance.

He is looked up to by his family and his friends who "trust him to do right". Atticus Finch sets a standard of morality that no other character in the book comes close to matching. Atticus is a studious man whose behaviour is governed by reason. Once he decides that a given course of action is right, he perseveres regardless of threats or criticisms. But Atticus is not a crusader. He does not go looking for causes to champion. The Tom Robinson case was not one he volunteered to handle- the judge assigned him the case because he felt Atticus would do his best to win. Atticus's desire to avoid conflict when possible is another quality that the author obviously wants us to admire. Atticus stands as one of literature's strongest and most positive father figures.

Although Atticus seems mellow and even old-fashioned, many of his beliefs are quite revolutionary. He allows Calpurnia to truly be a member of his family. He gives her full respect and fair treatment at all times. When Cal takes his children to her church, he seems unaffected. It is all part of his consistent code of conduct.

At times, Atticus may almost seem a caricature of goodness. Never once does he falter or think ill of people. But in Harper Lee's capable hands, Atticus seems believable and true.

In Scout's account of her childhood, her father Atticus reigns supreme.
(a) How would you characterise his abilities as a single parent?
(b) How would you describe his treatment of Calpurnia and Tom Robinson vis a vis his treatment of his white neighbours and colleagues?
(c) How would you typify his views on race and class in the larger context of his community and his peers?
Describe Atticus's relationship with his children.
Did Atticus make an error of judgement in regard to the safety of his client and his children? Could he have kept his own children, and his client Tom, safer?
In failing to arrest Boo Radley at the end, Sheriff Tate is breaking the law, as is Atticus, who knows the truth of Ewell's murder. Do you agree with some critics that Atticus' actions are "wrong" as well as illegal?
When Scout complains about her teacher, Atticus tells her that "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" (p. 33).
(a) Where in the novel does Atticus himself demonstrate this kind of empathy?
(b) How does he regard those who criticize, ridicule, or threaten him?
(c) How would this ability to empathize with others help solve the problems that arise from racism and prejudice?
What qualities make Atticus such an appealing figure? What beliefs does he live by? Does his behaviour conform to his ideals? How does he impart his ideals to his children and his community? Is he a believable character, or too good to be true?
Atticus Finch is to be declared 'Father of the Year'. Write the presentation speech given by Jem and Scout at the award ceremony. In this speech you are to outline Atticus's strengths as a human being and as a father, alluding to his achievements in the field of law, and in his defence of Tom Robinson.
Choose one of the following topics and argue the case for and against from the point of view of two or more characters from the novel. You will need to carefully decide upon your choice of characters.
(i) "Atticus Finch should never have agreed to defend Tom Robinson. It was unfair of him to make his children undergo the ordeal that the case involved."
(ii) "Both as a father and as a lawyer, Atticus Finch is a failure."