This poignant story takes place in the rural American South during the Depression Era and courageously takes on racial prejudice. Atticus Finch, an unforgettable lawyer and an admirable widowed father of two impressionable children, defends a young black man who has been wrongly accused of raping a white woman. In a town where the prevailing attitude is anti-black, it is up to Atticus to bring his client, his children, and the town’s people through the trial process to a new understanding of tolerance and humanity within society. This novel handles an emotionally charged issue with respect and dignity, leaving the reader with a clearer awareness of himself and the world.
Atticus is a proud, dignified man with a calm temperament and a strong sense of duty and righteousness. It isn’t just that everyone respects him: he also respects himself. He is forced to defend Tom Robinson because if he refuses to, he “couldn’t hold up [his] head in town” – he would be ashamed of himself. This self-pride is far more important to Atticus than mere cheap popularity. “I’ve got to live with myself” is how he explains to Scout about his determination to defend Tom Robinson. Of course, pride is not always admirable. Proud people are often conceited and snobbish, but Atticus is neither: although he is “the deadest shot in Maycomb County,” he never boasts about this talent. He would certainly disapprove of Scout or Jem boasting on his behalf. Despite his many talents, Atticus is a modest man. Yet, regardless of his achievements, career, and education, he never looks down on others never assumes anyone is inferior to him. When
Walter Cunningham comes to lunch Scout is arrogant enough to declare, “he ain’t company… he’s just a Cunningham”. Still, Atticus converses at length with Walter as though they are equals: “they talked together like two men,” Scout reports in amazement. However, although Scout has much to learn, her own fierce pride bonds her to her father and allows Atticus to show us another of his commendable talents: as teacher and adviser. He knows that Scout will always lose her self-control “if her pride’s at stake,” but he knows, through his integrity, that lecturing or threatening her will not be effective in changing her behaviour. Atticus has a pivotal role in the novel as a man who embodies all the book’s themes of justice, tolerance, courage and goodness. It is he; some may argue, and not Scout that is the main character in this stirring novel. Harper Lee created Atticus Finch to vent her underlying feelings and moral principles and express her ethical philosophy.
This, I feel, sums up just how important creating the character of Atticus Finch was to Harper Lee, as her mouth and her thoughts and her honourable values became his own. As I mentioned before, there are four main themes throughout this novel that reveal themselves in various ways and through a variety of different people, as well as Atticus, and we see how the character of Atticus Finch reacts to the issues thrown at him. One of the more important incidents where this quality contained in Atticus is brought to light is in the trial scene. The setting is Maycomb County Courthouse, a relatively modest, inoffensive building, where again the “anti-black” emotion is felt in strong currents. This is portrayed to the reader through the seating arrangement in the courthouse. The reader must remember that Maycomb is a comparatively small county, where many trials do not occur at all, let alone cases on as serious a scale like this, the case of rape, especially that of a black man allegedly raping a white woman, whether she be “white trash,” or not, so this caused rather a stir in society as town trials in the 1930s were seen as immense social events.
According to Miss Maudie, the Finch’s neighbour, this “out of the ordinary” case was treated rather like a “Carnival” Miss Maudie, the Finch’s neighbour. By not attending the trial, she showed her support for Atticus, just as Scout did, but in a way that Scout did not understand. Miss Maudie referred to the crowds gathering outside the courthouse as a “Carnival” because things would be crowded with such an enormous swarm of people, atmospheres intense, hot, and sticky, and seating scarce. Because of their colour, the black members of the very detached Maycomb community are forced to sit on the tiny balcony in the courthouse and experience the thoughts, feelings, and experiences that Miss Maudie did not wish to experience by attending the trial and causing even more unnecessary commotion.
Even though the children (Jem, Dill and Scout) are younger than all the black people seated on the balcony, four fully grown black adults move off the front row bench to allow the children to sit down. The white children sit down. This shows the extent of the respect for white people that the black commune has had to have drilled into them from a very early age, the same respect that was also drilled into their ancestors. When leaving the courthouse also, the “coloured folk” must wait until the white populace has exited before they may proceed to do so. Atticus attempts to teach his children, Jem and Scout, about kindness, generosity, and equality between all men. Atticus, this fifty-year-old attorney-at-law, is endeavouring to project his open-minded, pro-multiracial outlook upon his children by comparing his ideals and the current Maycomb county reality.
He tries to spread that lesson to the town through the trial of the case in the courtroom. This arduous task is seen earlier in the novel, when Atticus, and his inquisitive children, are faced with an angry mob, yielding firearms, and being led by Mr. Cunningham. Atticus has very strong beliefs and will always stick by them, no matter what. He explains to Scout the actions and reactions of people once they are part of a mob after she questions him the next morning on Mr. Cunningham’s conduct the night before. He elucidates to her, ” A mob’s always made up of people, no matter what. Mr. Cunningham was part of a mob last night, but he was still a man.” And, as if to make sure that the message had really sunk in, he dictates it again, but in such a matter that he knows his young children will surely understand.
He quips, “That proves something, a gang of wild animals can be stopped, simply because they’re still human.” Thus, we see again that Atticus emphasizes to his children the lesson of not judging nor hating someone forever, just because of a mistake they may have committed or an opinion they were have stressed. Atticus realizes that sometimes people get led astray from what is right and true, and so, maybe this is why Harper Lee always conveys Atticus Finch to us alone in his cause, never as a part of a group or mob. This tells the reader that he does not seem to need other people to back up his opinions and beliefs. We see this so often in the novel that one may actually wonder if this quality in Atticus is a mirror copy of Harper Lee’s own belief.