Essay - "To kill a mockingbird" by Harper Lee

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A critical essay on The character of Atticus Finch, the moral centre of the one of a kind novel by Harper Lee.

Submitted: June 10, 2010

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Submitted: June 10, 2010



Atticus Finch is the moral centre of the novel “To kill a mockingbird” by Harper Lee. The character of Atticus possesses many personal qualities through which the author educates the reader on themes such as inequality and racism. I was deeply impressed by Atticus’ ability to forgive others and by his wholehearted willingness to spot goodness in everyone. Also, I consider Atticus as a very strong and brave person. His bravery and strength is evident in how he was willing to face the challenge of opposing to the expectations of the society.

The novel “To kill a mockingbird” by Harper Lee is a one of a kind book in English speaking literature that shows how unequally black people used to be treated in the beginning of the 20th century. The book tells a moving story told from a small girl’s point of view. The plot takes place in Southern America where at that time black people were treated like useless trash. Atticus Finch is a lawyer that decides to defend the life of an innocent black man, bravely sacrificing himself and his family to the public. Unfortunately, in the end Atticus’ efforts go to nothing and his children were in a big danger, however, it is said that everyone is safe at last.

Atticus shows that he is a good parent to his children through the things he teaches them. Atticus shows that he wished to protect his children from the things that could harm them. In that way he proved to be like any other parent : “ There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep them all away from you. That’s never possible.“ This reflects the idea how much Atticus would want to protect his children from the wrong if only it was possible. Also, he straight away appeared to be an honest and a truthful person as he was informing his son that life is not simple. I believe Atticus to be a good father, despite the fact he unintendedly created a burden for his children. Throughout the novel, the reader gets to see how Atticus’ fairness and inner need for equality make his children respect him and how they are certain that he is always correct. “Atticus has never whipped me since I can remember and I want to keep it that way.”. Back in the old days, it was normal that children got whipped for bad behaviour, but Atticus shows that he is progressive and that he is a man of peace. Atticus has gained trust and respect of his children and this was shown in the way his son stated that since he never got whipped “he wants to keep it that way”. The word “want” shows that Jem did not crave to disappoint his father in anyway and that is because since his father was always fair towards him he wanted to pay back the same. This shows that Atticus’ clever methods of bringing up his children made them mature and he has no need for expectations such as not speaking to him by the name. I am deeply struck by Atticus’ attitude towards bringing up his children. Despite the mother of his children was dead, he still provided them all they needed to be happy.

Throughout the novel, it became clear that Atticus is a very equal person in the way he expressed fairness towards the black community. Evidence fro that can be traced through the course of the book and it can be seen that Atticus treats black men no other than white men : “ As you grow older you’ll see white men cheat black men everyday of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t forget it - whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, of fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.” This phrase echoes the idea of inequality and racism in society back in those days. The expression “cheat” emphasises that black men were constantly abused by white men while “trash” explains that people who did that were more than worthless. Atticus treats white men a lot more luckier and better-off than those who are black - here Atticus’ objectivity is shown. Atticus knew that back then people were unjust to the point of considering the best of black men worse than the worst of the white men. There Atticus opposes to racism. I felt a great amount of sympathy for black people as in my opinion it was purely unfair for them to be constantly abused by white men only because of the colour of their skin. Atticus shows his commitment in defending to what is right and what is wrong as soon as he takes up the case of Tom Robinson : “They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions…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” By this it is easy for the reader to see the reason for why Atticus had to defend his case : he would not stand a life if he did not help a defenceless, having that opportunity. This implies his benevolence and goodness. Saying that he had to live with himself before he lives with others, it is implied that Atticus had great respect towards himself , for him to be able to respect others like that. Atticus proved to be exceptional to what the majority of people used to be like and in his actions he opposed to the main themes of the book : inequality and racism. I feel shocked how people back then were enormously closed-minded, to the degree of alienating one with a different opinion to their own.

Throughout the course of the novel, the reader could discover that Atticus has been respected by everybody and is because he treated ‘others’ the way he himself wanted to be treated. A neighbour of the Finches, Miss Maudie, stated her opinion on Atticus: “ He is the same in the court-room as he is on the public street” This extract implies that Atticus was always himself and that he never put on a dishonest face. Also, he treated both white and black men equally. The word ’public’ explains that the street is a place where not only known people could be met , therefore, Atticus gained respect with the neighbours. I feel respect for Atticus because I am impressed with the way he treated everybody and how that gained him approbation. Unfortunately, even though Atticus was widely favoured, not everybody had a positive opinion on his actions: “ Your father is no better than the niggers and trash he works for” These words have been spoken by a white woman who turned out to be very segregative. The word “niggers” suggest the disrespect and discrimination black people faced as well as comparing them to something as useless as “trash”. Atticus proved to be willing to receive criticism with his head up high. I feel like I relate to Atticus’ compassion for the mistreated black community as I think of it as extremely unjust.

Towards the end of the novel, Atticus prove himself willing to receive somebody else’s punishment if that would save that person from suffering. One day Atticus faced Bob Ewell in town: “ If spitting in my face or 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 household full of children.”. The word “gladly” suggests Atticus’ quality: his good-humouredness. This also shows that he had no trouble in receiving somebody else’s’ punishment which underlines his selflessness. He was still willing to sacrifice himself in order to take away somebody else’s suffering despite all the wrongs he and his family received from the Ewell’s. I felt hugely impressed by Atticus’ ability to forgive and forget with ease. Towards the finale of the novel, Atticus proved to be observant because, suddenly, he seemed to know a lot about the feeling of Boo Radley: “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.”. The word “consider” suggests that its good if one would think about the reasons people have for doing the things they do. The expression “and walk around in it” explores on the idea that its not enough to just put oneself in somebody’s place, instead, in order to fully understand somebody, this person must become that person. This states that Atticus is a compassionate person that often put himself in the situation of others and the reason for the respect Atticus gained was his understanding of peoples’ situations and characters. I was deeply moved by the way Atticus perceived human nature; he always stayed aware of its faults and imperfections.

The moral centre of the novel “To kill a mockingbird” by Harper Lee has shown strong opposition to inequality and racism, as they have been the main themes of the book. Overall, I admit that the character of Atticus Finch possesses many personal qualities such as sense of justice, compassion, benevolence and self-sacrifice. Each of these traits uncovers different parts of his character, however, in my opinion, no bad sides to Atticus’ person were exposed during the book’s course of action. I developed reactions to the way Atticus treated others and to the goodness he showed them; he made me experience emotions such as impress, sorry, pity and realisation. I consider Atticus as a perfect example of a human being that seemed tot be doing and thinking the right way. I myself as a person one day wish to be capable of the level of self sacrifice Atticus was able to produce, as well as to be able to treat others with as much goodness as he did.

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