Gardner Variety: We can all learn a thing or two from Atticus Finch


“If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.”

We can all learn a thing or two from Atticus Finch.

For those of you who are unaware — or have otherwise been living beneath a rock — Atticus is a central character in Harper Lee’s masterpiece “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a Pulitzer Prize winning novel which, incidentally, was called “Atticus” before Lee changed the title to reflect a broader theme within the novel.

No fictional character in all of literature — or any medium, for that matter — has influenced my overall outlook on life quite like Atticus. He’s an idealist, in the most respectable sense of the word. He stands up for what he believes in, despite the rigid post-slavery mentality permeating the fictional small southern town of Maycomb, Ala. in 1936. Perhaps most importantly, he strives to be the best father he can be to his children, Jem and Scout, in the absence of their deceased mother.

Let me give you all a little more context.

In the novel, Atticus, a lawyer and state legislator, is appointed to defend Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a young, white woman in Maycomb in 1935. Despite Atticus’ stellar defense, in which he not only demonstrated Robinson’s innocence, but provided clear evidence pointing to the actual perpetrator, the outcome of the trial had been written before the proceedings even began.

Robinson was black. His alleged victim was white. The jury, made up entirely of white males, inevitably reached a guilty verdict.

When explaining the outcome, Atticus told his distraught son, “The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in the courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow, but people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box.”

Atticus knew the battle was likely over before it had begun, but he still had hope. He still had the courage to stare down racist threats — both against himself and his children — and stand up for the rights of African Americans in a segregated society.

Scout, at the ripe age of seven, couldn’t understand why her father would put himself through so much turmoil. Atticus explained simply, ”… if I didn’t, I couldn’t hold up my head in town. I couldn’t represent this county in the legislature. I couldn’t even tell you not to do something.”

This exemplifies the strong moral character that defines Atticus. He does the right thing because he takes pride in who he is, both professionally and as a father. He does the right thing because he respects the intended nature of the American legislature and judicial systems, despite challenging their integrity. He does the right thing because somebody must, even in a society blinded by deep-seated prejudices.

While we’ve undoubtedly made strides forward, many of these prejudices still exist, whether we’d like to admit it or not.

We can all learn a thing or two from Atticus Finch.


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