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In To Kill a Mockingbird, mostly everyone is represented by an animal, but my teacher...

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itsallmath | Student, Grade 10 | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 24, 2009 at 1:21 PM via web

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, mostly everyone is represented by an animal, but my teacher says Atticus is represented by a non animal?

he says like mr.ewell is a rabid dog ... but atticus is some thing thats not an animal can someone help me out to figure out who he is represented as ?

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emfrancis | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 30, 2009 at 6:25 AM (Answer #1)

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Your teacher is correct.  Atticus is not symbolized by an animal.  Atticus represents civilized man.  He is educated, he has morals, he is willing to stand up for what he believes, and he prefers to use his mind rather than his might when it comes to solving a problem.

Many literary analysts compare Atticus to a lion because of the emergent leadership role he takes amongst the townsfolk or an owl because of how wise he is.  However, the comparison to a lion is not completely accurate because Atticus, as Lee points out in her book, Scout and Jem are embarassed of Atticus because he doesn't hunt or fish.  Atticus is not a predator like a lion.  The character of Sheriff Heclk Tate is more like a lion in that he is the designated leader of the town feels responsible for protecting the townsfolk.

As for Atticus being compared to an owl, the symbol is more appropriate to the character of Miss Maudie because she is recognized for her wisdom by Scout.   Atticus is wise, but his wisdom comes more from his education and experience.  Miss Maudie is more like the wisened owl because her wisdom comes from education, experience, and age.

When Atticus is forced to kill the rabid dog, he does so not as a show of power, strength, or dominance but rather out of safety and security.  This exemplifies Atticus's moral fiber.  He pities the dog and regrets he must take such savage action, but he does so out of a sense of duty and responsibility.

It's Atticus's intelligence that also saves Tom Robinson from the townsfolk who come to the jail to lynch him.  The townsfolk showed their animalistic nature by resorting to violence in their pursuit of justice.  Atticus did not resort to fighting violence with further violence.  He was able to use rationalization to quell and disperse the mob.  Atticus's ability to use his mind to "fight" shows how he reprsents the best of humanity by not resorting to a savage nature.

To symbolize Atticus as "God" goes against the humility of his character.  Yes, Atticus is "a loving, kind gentle father" whose character is above all the "lower instincts" as represented by the animals.  However, to characterize him as "God" or even a benevolent king goes against Atticus's true characterization as an emergent leader who exemplifies the best humanity has to offer.  While many would say that this could symbolize him as "God" because we are created in his image, no one in the story lives to serve Atticus or even "worships" him.  In fact, while Atticus is revered by many, he is scorned by the town for defending Tom Robinson.  This is not "God"-like.  If we were to compare him to a Biblical figure, he would be more like Moses or Jesus by maintaining his morals in defiance of society's norms.  

Atticus's morality and his sense of obligation shows how truly human Atticus is and also separates him from the more animalistic nature of the other characters in To Kill a Mockingbird - the innocent birds or "mockingbirds" (Boo Radley, Tom Robinson), the growing cubs (Scout, Jem, Dill, Walter Cunningham Jr.), the whipped dogs (Mayella Ewell), the den mother (Calpurnia, Aunt Alexandra) and the savage creatures (Bob Ewell, the Cunninghams).

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marilynn07 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted September 24, 2009 at 7:55 PM (Answer #2)

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Atticus is best represented by "God" as in a loving, kind gentle father who instructs and leads by example. His character is above all of the "lower instincts" as represented by the animals.

Atticus character might also be represented as a benevolent king or a lion who has violent abilities but chooses not to use them unless absolutely necessary.

Atticus might also be represented as  type of Jesus figure in this novel. He does not become a sacrifice, but he does do a lot of storytelling and modeling of the desired behavior. He goes into the "temple" which in this story is the courtroom and upsets the status quo by representing a black man in the segregated South during the Jim Crow era.

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