Mockingbird Mondays – Part #7
Hello and welcome back to Mockingbird Mondays. I hope you have been enjoying these tidbits of my take on To Kill a Mockingbird.
Today, I want to talk about Atticus Finch, the father of Scout and Jem, in the novel. He has many admirable qualities: his honesty, his love for his children, and his fine work ethics. However, the quality I love the most about Atticus is his choice to treat ALL people with respect and dignity. He is not prejudiced against the blacks in his community. He doesn’t have a problem with how Calpurnia, his black housekeeper, has helped raise his children. She is allowed to discipline them right alongside of Atticus when they need it. He even allows them to go to her church one Sunday when he is out of town.
When Atticus’s sister, Alexandria, temporarily moves in with him to help him with the children during the trial of Tom Robinson, she tries to tell Atticus that they don’t need Calpurnia any more. We are told:
“Atticus’s voice was even: ‘Alexandria, Calpurnia’s not leaving this house until she wants to. You may think otherwise, but I couldn’t have got along without her all those years. She’s a faithful member of this family and you’ll simply have to accept things the way they are. Besides, sister, I don’t want you working your head off for us – you’ve no reason to do that. We still need Cal as much as we ever did.'”
Then she says, “But Atticus–” (pg. 155) And Atticus goes on to tell her that Cal doesn’t let the kids get away with anything and is harder on them than he is sometimes. Most of all, he points out that she is loved by the children.
When Scout questions him about why he is defending a negro, Atticus tells her that if he didn’t, he would feel like he coudn’t tell her and Jem what to do anymore, he couldn’t be a lawyer in their town or even hold his head up in town. Scout catches on that if Atticus didn’t defend Tom, she and Jem wouldn’t have to obey him; they would lose their respect for him. This confuses her for a moment, but then she finds out that Atticus knows he is not going to win the trial. Yet in his mind, defending Tom Robinson is what he chooses to do simply because he believes it is the right thing to do. In the midst of this conversation, Atticus tells Scout,
“No matter what anybody says to you, don’t let ’em get your goat. Try fighting with your head for a change…it’s a good one, even if it does resist learning.” (pg. 87) I can just see him in my head smiling and maybe even winking at Scout as he says this.
Personally, I don’t think Atticus treats Scout and Jem like adults. He knows they are children, but he takes time to answer their questions and explain things to them that most parents probably didn’t do in the 1930’s. Some parents don’t even do this today. This is why he is such a strong character. He is always thinking about how others think and feel. This is why he can tell Scout to put herself in another’s place so she can understand them better. Atticus even shows respect to his neighbor, Mrs. Dubose, even though she is old and cranky and calls his children names. They don’t like her at all, but they see how he still greets her and tips his hat to her when he walks by her house. She yells at him, too, but he still greets her with kindness. The most wonderful thing he does for her, though, is stay at her bedside all night while she slowly passes away.
Atticus can even take someone’s hatred towards him. After the trial, when Tom is found guilty of rape and sentenced to die for his crime, Atticus goes to visit Tom’s wife and family to tell them he plans to appeal the verdict. When he come’s out of the house, Bob Ewell is waiting for him and spits in his face. Atticus simply looks at him and wipes his face, then walks away. This takes a lot of wisdom and self-control. He doesn’t give Bob the satisfaction of reacting to this blatant display of misplaced disgust. Why does Bob do this to Atticus if his daughter, Mayella, won the trial? Atticus believes it is because he had wounded Bob’s pride when he showed the community how ignorant Bob is. He proved that there was no way Tom could have raped Mayella, and this causes Bob to become even more embittered. Bob had been put in his place publicly and hated Atticus for it. That’s why he gets drunk and attacks Jem later.
The last thing I want to say about Atticus is that I think he is the ideal father. Some have criticized his character for this saying they think he is too perfect. Well, maybe so, but many of us wish we had had a father who listened to our every question, showed interest in what we thought, and just took us on his lap and loved on us the way he does with Scout and Jem. What is so funny to me, though, is how Scout sees him. She respects him, but she also tests him when she starts cussing to try and get out of going to school. She wants him to think the other kids are a bad influence on her. What does he do? He ignores it, because he believes she will do it even more if she gets any attention over it. Does this parenting technique always work? Sometimes. However, when she cusses at her uncle’s house, he talks to her about it and tells her he doesn’t like those words. So she respects her uncle and stops.
Scout and Jem think Atticus is old. Jem wants to play ball in the yard with him more, but Atticus tells him he’s too old. So they think he is, because this is how Atticus sees himself. One of my favorite lines in the book is the opening of Chapter 10.
“Atticus was feeble; he was nearly fifty. When Jem and I asked him why he was so old, he said he got started late, which we felt reflected upon his abilities and manliness.” (pg. 103) Then she goes on to talk about how he doesn’t do anything like farm, work in the garage, work in a drugstore or drive a dump-truck. She says, “He did not do the things our schoolmates’ fathers did: he never went hunting, he did not play poker or fish or drink or smoke. He sat in the livingroom and read.” (pgs. 102-103)
To me, this is one of the strongest things about Atticus. He is a learned man. He and his brother learned at home, and he became a lawyer. He is smart, cunning and wise. It is because of him that Scout learns to read so early. He shares his favorite interest with her every night as she sits on his lap and reads the paper with him.
Harper Lee must have had a wonderful father if her character of Atticus is modeled after him!
Y’all come back now, ya hear?
Have a wonderful day, and give someone you love a big hug. 🙂
All quotes are from To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, First Perennial Classic edition, Harper Collins Publishers, 2002.
Posted on March 2, 2015, in Writing and tagged Atticus, Harper Lee, Mockingbird Mondays, Part #1, Part #2, part #3, part #4, Part 6, Part 7, Scout, To Kill a Mockingbird, writing. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.