“To Kill a Mockingbird” is perhaps one of the most thought-provoking and influential novels ever produced; it is revered for its humour and warmth, despite tackling taboo issues such as racial inequality and rape in the deep south of America. Narrated by nine-year-old Scout, her father, Atticus Finch has served as a moral hero for countless readers and as a model of integrity for lawyers. Atticus Finch is no ordinary man. He does not conform to society’s mannerisms, but instead, lives by his own judgements and instinctive courtesy. He treats all people he meets as his equal, despite it becoming clear that he is unlike any other literary protagonist. Living as a single father with his children Jeremy (Jem) and Jean-Louise (Scout) Finch, he does his utmost to give them a decent moral education. However, whilst his methods of parenting are now seen as liberal and forward-thinking, many people at the time would have questioned his ability as a father.
Maycomb County, Alabama is an inherently racist town. Living at a time when the black civil rights movement was beginning to take hold of other regions of America, the “Bible Belt” running along the south of the country was still in the dark ages in terms of social harmony. It was at this time that coloured people and white people would never mix and the Ku Klux Klan was wreaking devastation. Also at this time, America was crippled by great economic depression. Following the Wall Street Crash (known as Black Tuesday) unemployment rates in America rose to 25%, most notably, farming and rural areas suffered as crop prices fell by up to 60%. In spite of the many adversities faced by the population of America during the 1920s and 1930s, Atticus intended his children to have the best start in life. Harper Lee expresses a clear disapproving attitude towards the state education system.
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This is indicated by the way Atticus got Calpurnia to teach his children at home before they even started to go to school. “She would set me a writing task by scrawling the alphabet firmly across the top of the tablet, then copying out a chapter of the bible beneath.” By this quote, you know that Calpurnia, a black servant of the family, was literate, and given different circumstances, consequently could get a better job. Within the Finch family, Calpurnia was respected as an equal human being and Jem and Scout were influenced in their behaviour towards her by the example shown by their father. Unlike many other black domestic workers, Calpurnia was treated with courtesy for example when Atticus offered to drive her home when there was a blizzard. She was never made to feel unwelcome or belittled, this shows in the way she confidently interacts with the children and has no problem with scolding or punishing bad behaviour.
Atticus is perhaps pensive of the education system and believes that he could do a better job, by beginning the children’s early education at home. Contrary to this, during Chapter 3, after Scout confesses to Atticus that she does not want to go to school anymore, he tenderly convinces her to see otherwise. Whilst it is clear to the reader from the start of the conversation that Scout will be returning to school the next day, Atticus’s gentle yet persuasive manner convinces her to see the benefits of an education which encourages Scout to think for herself and make an informed decision. This is a common occurrence in “To Kill a Mockingbird” as Atticus often teaches his children subtle life lessons without having to preach to them. This leads Scout and Jem to make choices and conclusions for themselves. In an attempt to widen the children’s views on society, Atticus often reads with his children, a tradition that is now lost in most families.
Throughout the course of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Atticus sparks controversy among the population of Maycomb for his radical decision to defend Tom Robinson is one of the largest court scenes, the town had ever seen. This shows Atticus intends to lead by example standing up for his beliefs in spite of the adversities and the threat of being ostracised by the wider community. When Atticus is appointed to represent the innocent Tom Robinson, he knows it is a lost cause, however, he continues to do his utmost to prove to his children the difference between right and wrong and consequently good and evil. The Tom Robinson case highlights one of the major lessons learned by Jem and Scout during the course of the novel. Atticus encourages the children not to judge people and have any prejudices, he does this as he is courteous to everybody, regardless of their race, social class or even behaviour towards him. He shows the utmost self-restraint and dignity when Mr. Ewell spits in his face, he does not retaliate.
Mrs. Dubose provides the stark realization that there are always two sides to a person by her split personality. On one hand, she is hated by the children for her cruel remarks and bad temper, however, she is admired by Atticus for her bravery and courage as she fights a morphine addiction. This is one of many indications of Atticus’s ability to recognize the good in everybody and behaves with empathy. This allows him to understand people’s motivation and therefore make some allowances for their actions. He passes on this trait to Scout and advises her that you never really understand a person until you “step into his skin and walk around in it”. Atticus is also free from the inherent hypocrisy and double standards that appear rife among the population of Maycomb with Miss Stephanie Crawford leading the charge – he is “the same in his house as he is on the public streets.”
Atticus appears to have the demeanour that is applauded in any father. He is kind and compassionate and treats Scout and Jem as adults rather than patronize them and insult their obvious intelligence, however, he is always willing to explain patiently when something he says is not understood “Jem and I was accustomed to our father’s last-will-and-testament diction, and we were at all times free to interrupt Atticus for a translation when it was beyond our understanding”. Apart from Miss Maudie Atkinson, there are few other characters that treat the children with such bluntness. Furthermore, Atticus allows his children to address him by his forename, which shows the adult relationship he has with his children. However, this could also show detachment, and that he doesn’t feel able to adapt to his parenting duties without the support of his wife, as calling Atticus “father” would be a constant reminder that they do not have a ”mother”. This theory is extenuated by the fact that Atticus has remained single many years after the death of his wife.
On the other hand, this is one of the major signs that Atticus respects the opinions of his children and only wishes to focus on the solidity of their upbringing rather than the confusing process of courting and remarrying. In some respects, Atticus handles his children in the same fashion as he handles a courtroom. If Jem and Scout have a disagreement, Atticus is calm and gives each child their chance to give the version of events before punishing either of them. As Scout tells Uncle Jack, “When Jem an’ I fuss Atticus doesn’t ever just listen to Jem’s side of it, he hears mine too” Scout also tells Miss Maudie, “Atticus don’t ever do anything to Jem and me in the house that he doesn’t do in the yard”. Atticus runs his family like a judge: he is the one in charge and has a clear set of rules that he expects his children to follow, yet he makes sure that both sides have their say.
A major turning point in the novel is the arrival of Atticus’s sister; Aunt Alexandra. She has a completely opposing parenting technique to Atticus and believes that his methods are detrimental to Jem and Scout’s development. She is horrified that Scout and Jem are “running wild” and should behave more like a “little lady and gentleman”. Atticus demonstrates his calm and cool manner when dealing with Aunt Alexandra as he lets her have her say about events such as the court case, Calpurnia and even his children’s behaviour even though he clearly does not feel the same way. Nonetheless, Aunt Alexandra is a proud lady and tries hard to make Scout and Jem understand their family and background. For some of the novel, she is embarrassed by Atticus, especially by his defence of Tom Robinson and the effect of this on the family.
I agree with the original essay question, as Atticus endeavours to treat his children as he would wish to be treated unlike many other fathers from that period, Atticus doesn’t expect his kids to respect him just because he’s their father, but because he acts in a way that deserves respect. His honesty with his children means that they trust him, and look to him for guidance. On the other hand, he is a kind, compassionate and widely respected character in the world of literature and has inspired fathers and lawyers for generations. I feel that Atticus Finch is most definitely a “fine folk” he does the best he can with the sense he has and never feels that he has done enough for his children.
It would seem that although the people of Maycomb could not appreciate the liberal parenting techniques of Atticus, it has now become commonplace for families to have more open relationships with each other and discuss topics previously untouched. While Atticus holds his children to the same high standards as he holds himself, he also is there for them when they need him. The last sentence of the novel reinforces this aspect of his character: “He turned out the light and went into Jem’s room. He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning”. Even when Jem is unconscious and has no way of knowing what is happening, Atticus is there for him – because it’s the right thing to do, even if there is nobody watching? That would fit with what we know about Atticus, but perhaps there’s a simpler reason: love.