Atticus Finch

Atticus Finch

Atticus Finch is a fictional character in Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "To Kill a Mockingbird". Atticus is a lawyer and resident of Maycomb County, Alabama, and the father of Jeremy Atticus "Jem" Finch and Jean Louise "Scout" Finch. Atticus is one of the central characters in the novel.

Background

Atticus is the descendant of Simon Finch, an apothecary from England who settled near Maycomb. Rather than stay in the family homestead (named "Finch's Landing"), Atticus went to Montgomery to study law. He was later elected to the Alabama State Legislature, was then reelected without opposition many times, and was known as a respected and hard-working lawmaker (although it's never stated whether he was a member of the Alabama House of Representatives or the Alabama Senate). While a legislator, he met and married the future mother of Jem and Scout Finch (her first name was never revealed, but her surname was Graham, although it is mentioned that she was fifteen years his junior). His wife died of a heart attack two years after Scout, their younger child, was born. Throughout the novel, Atticus lives in Maycomb with his two children and his maid, Calpurnia. He has one sister, who has very different ways of bringing up children and wants to make Scout more feminine, and a brother who seems quite inexperienced with children.

Influences

Atticus Finch was based on Lee’s father, Amasa Lee. The name of Atticus came from the Roman orator Titus Pomponius Atticus, noteworthy for never taking a side in political struggles but rather staying neutral. Presumably the surname "Finch" was derived from Lee's mother, Frances Cunningham Finch Lee (there are, in fact, other characters in the book with the surnames "Cunningham" and "Frances", respectively).

Plot of the novel

Atticus is the book's most upright character, representing the moral ideal of both a lawyer and a human being. He goes to great pains to instruct his children on the importance of being open-minded, judicious, generous neighbors and citizens. He is eventually revealed to be an expert marksman (the best shot in Maycomb County), but he had chosen to keep this fact hidden from his children so that they would not in any way think of him as a man of violence. Physically, he is described throughout the novel as a tall, middle-aged man with glasses to correct his failing eyesight, and hair slightly graying at the temples. He is also mentioned never to take off his vest and tie, except right before changing for bed (he did loosen up his collar as well as remove his vest once during his closing argument at Tom Robinson's trial).

The novel (told from the perspective of his daughter, Jean Louise "Scout" Finch) centers on Atticus' struggle to defend a black man, Tom Robinson, accused of raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell. Despite the fact that there is strong evidence suggesting that Tom is innocent, most of the town supports conviction simply because the defendant is a black man and the alleged victim is a white woman. Hence, Atticus, his children and his family continually face slander, insults, and sometimes even threats of physical violence from fellow citizens, schoolmates of Jem and Scout, and even other members of the Finch family. Despite all this, Atticus refuses to abandon the case, and continues to urge Jem and Scout to remain unresponsive to the town's criticism, fearful that they may learn the wrong ethical lessons. Atticus shrugs off all prejudices and insults, forgiving the townspeople for their failings, and continues to work for Tom's acquittal, taking the release of the innocent man as a personal crusade and his duty as a lawyer.

Impact on the legal profession

Claudia Durst Johnson noted about available critique of the novel that, "a greater volume of critical readings has been amassed by two legal scholars in law journals than by all the literary scholars in literary journals." [Johnson, "Boundaries" p.25-27] Alice Petry remarked that "Atticus has become something of a folk hero in legal circles and is treated almost as if he were an actual person." [Petry, p. xxiii] Examples of Atticus Finch's impact on the legal profession are plentiful. Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center cites Atticus Finch as the reason he became a lawyer, and Richard Matsch, the federal judge who presided over the Timothy McVeigh trial, counts Atticus as a major judicial influence. [Petry, p. xxiv] One law professor at the University of Notre Dame stated that the most influential textbook he taught from was "To Kill a Mockingbird", and an article in the "Michigan Law Review" claimed, "No real-life lawyer has done more for the self-image or public perception of the legal profession," before questioning whether, "Atticus Finch is a paragon of honor or an especially slick hired gun." [Lubet, Steven. "Reconstructing Atticus Finch." "Michigan Law Review" 97, no. 6 (May 1999): 1339–62.]

In 1992, an Alabama editorial called for the death of Atticus, saying that as liberal as Atticus was, he still worked within a system of institutionalized racism and sexism and should not be revered. The editorial sparked a flurry of responses from attorneys who entered the profession holding Atticus Finch as a hero, and the reason they became lawyers. [Petry, p. xxv - xxvii] Critics of Atticus maintain he is morally ambiguous and does not use his legal skills to challenge the racist status quo in Maycomb. [Metress, Christopher. "The Rise and Fall of Atticus Finch." The Chattahoochee Review; 24 (1): September, 2003] However, in 1997, the Alabama State Bar erected a monument dedicated to Atticus in Monroeville marking his existence as the "first commemorative milestone in the state's judicial history." ["'Mockingbird' Hero Honored in Monroeville." "Birmingham News" (Alabama): May 3, 1997; Pg. 7A.]

Lee herself, in an interview in 1961, described Atticus as "a man of absolute integrity with as much good will and good humor as he is just and humane." [Petry, p. xxiv] He is described as having "Christ-like goodness and wisdom" [Johnson, Claudia. "The Secret Courts of Men's Hearts." Studies in American Fiction; Autumn, 1991 (19:2)] illustrated by Miss Maudie's comment that Atticus "was born to do our unpleasant jobs for us," [Lee, p. 245] and Aunt Alexandra's reaction to Atticus' grief at Tom Robinson's death: "It tears him to pieces...what else do they want from him?" [Lee, p. 269.] Praise for the character is tremendous indeed, likening him to the "Abe Lincoln of Alabama," Emersonian in his wisdom, and a modern-day prophet. [Petry, p. xxv]

Film adaptation

Book Magazine's list "The 100 Best Characters in Fiction Since 1900" lists Atticus Finch as 7th best fictional character of the 20th Century [ [http://www.infoplease.com/ipea/A0932846.html] ] .

In the film adaptation of "To Kill a Mockingbird", Atticus Finch was played by Gregory Peck. Lee became good friends with Peck and even gave him her father’s watch, which he used in the famous courtroom scene.Fact|date=November 2007 For his performance, Peck received the Academy Award for Best Actor, and was voted in 2003 by the American Film Institute to be the #1 Greatest Hero of American film, [ [http://www.afi.com/tvevents/100years/handv.aspx AFI's 100 YEARS...100 HEROES & VILLAINS ] ] beating out such famous film heroes as Indiana Jones, Superman, Mohandas K. Gandhi, Tarzan, James Bond and Robin Hood. Peck, a civil rights activist and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom award, who favored the role of Finch over all his other roles, had this to say about his performance:

“I put everything I had into it – all my feelings and everything I'd learned in 46 years of living, about family life and fathers and children. And my feelings about racial justice and inequality and opportunity”.

Lee loved his portrayal of Finch and said of it: "In that film, the man and the part met." [ [http://www.medaloffreedom.com/GregoryPeckMockingbird.htm Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird ] ]

Atticus' line "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 inside of his skin and walk around in it" was one of 400 film quotes nominated by the AFI for its 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes, but was not included in the final list. The line was spoken exactly as it appears in the book.

References


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