The Exploration of Atticus Finch

Discussion
Feb 19, 2016

The Exploration of Atticus Finch

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel written about the life of a child during the southern Great Depression, and presents a variety of characters that provide both insight and awareness of the problematic platforms of the past. While Scout Finch is considered to be the main character, it could be agreed by many that the hero of the novel is instead her father, Atticus. Throughout the book, Atticus plays a virtuous paternal figure who preaches the importance of compassion, understanding, and love towards those who, in Scout’s mind, had done little to deserve such. It requires little thought to trust the soundness of Harper Lee’s righteous and unimpeachable Atticus Finch, but with further analysis, this hero’s character can be said to be less than perfect— one that represents both the ideals of the time and a stain on human disposition.
The necessity of a hero dynamic in a novel is one that seems to link all unrelated fictitious works together. A book must always have someone who plays the hero, for it is the hero that everyone sees inside themselves, or at least wants to. Scout’s childlike innocence is without a doubt filled with nostalgic relatability, but inside every optimist and pessimist alike is a yearning to be like Atticus. Atticus, who showed Jem that like Mrs. Dubose, everyone loves differently, who represented a black man in a case no one else would believe, who taught Scout sympathy towards those like the Cunninghams who had life worse than they; this is the Atticus we read with coveted admiration, even envy.
Despite all of the good that Atticus has done, one still regretfully feels the need to delve deeper. Within human nature is the desire to scrutinize the validity of kindness, but it is perhaps the jealousy inside ourselves for characters like Atticus that we hate most. Atticus seemed himself to be righteously compassionate, not necessarily advocating for equality, but advocating for the fair treatment of everyone. However, we must examine his motivation for this advocacy. It is my opinion that Atticus’s concern for compassion was one evolved from arrogance. Being pompous simply because one is a good person is one thing, but having a morale founded upon egotistical beliefs is another. Atticus seems to want to treat blacks for example, with equality due not to a thirst for fairness, but with instead a sort of pity, and with this pity comes a belief that this group of people is supplementary. Arguably his every act of kindness was one of privilege, of “condolence of the lesser,” which in itself is an act of inadvertent racism. Atticus states “You know the truth, and the truth is this: some Negroes lie, some Negroes are immoral, some Negro men are not to be trusted around women—black or white. But this is a truth that applies to the human race and to no particular race of men. There is not a person in this courtroom who has never told a lie, who has never done an immoral thing, and there is no man living who has never looked upon a woman without desire.” (Lee 273). This Christian belief in the fact that everyone has sinned shows that Atticus hopes for understanding for all, but not necessarily equality.
Atticus Finch works for accommodation, not reform, and it is this realization that shows how mistaken one is with their first assumptions of this seemingly impeccable man. At what point does compassion for someone else only echo the needs to satisfy one’s pride? Atticus told Scout that he was fighting for Tom Robinson because if he didn’t, he would not be able to have hold his head up in town. (Lee 100). Was Atticus merely upholding a callous need for self-fulfillment? This brings the question of whether it is Atticus’s so-called selflessness that is debatable, or if everyone’s good deed is more internal than external. It is certainly a nihilistic point of view, that if everyone’s kindness is illegitimate, then kindness itself is not real, but this is something that has to be questioned when attempting to understand the character of Atticus Finch.
Of Walter Cunningham to Scout, Atticus stated that he “Is basically a good man…He just has blind spots along with the rest of us” (Lee 210). As said by scholar Monroe Freedman, “This blind spot is a homicidal hatred of black people,” (Freedman qtd in Gladwell), and yet Atticus defends, even excuses his actions. To me, this passage is very important, and it raises the question of whether it is worse to not acknowledge a man's bad deeds than it is to forget about them. Atticus has quite a bit of both forgiveness and forget in him, and whether this is ignorance or generosity, it is hard to tell. Can one still be a good man and have such a terrible blind spot? At what point can such a stain on moral character be no longer overlooked or excused, at what point does Atticus’s support of a bad man make him one himself? Of course, no person is perfect, no man is wholeheartedly good or bad, because there is always a human ability for sympathy. Perhaps it is Atticus’s sympathy for Walter Cunningham, it is Atticus seeing the underlying evilness within the man and recognizing it within himself, that makes him such a compelling character. It is no longer with simple jealousy that one views Atticus, but instead with a belief that no man is perfect, and there is bad within every good.
In this analysis, I would like to shine light on the fact that Atticus was more than indirect in his “engagement for justice.” “I’m no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and in the jury system—that is no ideal to me, it is a living, working reality. Gentlemen, a court is no better than each man of you sitting before me on this jury. A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up. I am confident that you gentlemen will review without passion the evidence you have heard, come to a decision, and restore this defendant to his family. In the name of God, do your duty.” (Lee 275). Was Atticus taking the higher path, or was his method of engagement one of cowardice? Perhaps Finch is not the upstanding paternal-figure we were led to believe. We once again, come to the debate of whether bravery is taking the bullet, or like Atticus, moving to avoid it.
Through the actions and attributes of Atticus Finch, we can better understand the complex innuendos of human character and gain insight regarding life during the telling time of the Great Depression. There is no conclusive answer as to the innocence of this character, as such things are founded upon opinion—if there is ever an answer to be found, it is not between the pages of a book but instead within the human mind. It requires little thought to trust the soundness of Harper Lee’s righteous and unimpeachable Atticus Finch, but with further analysis, this hero’s character can be said to be less than perfect—one that represents both the ideals of the time and a stain on human disposition.