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One of the most noble characters in American literature--perhaps in all literature--is Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. An examination of his views on courage, equality, empathy, and conscience reveals the moral position of Atticus Finch.
When Jem has a bit of an altercation with Mrs. Henry Lafayette DuBose, Atticus uses the incident to teach Jem that courage is something bigger than his son's narrow definition.
“Courage is not a man with a gun in his hand. It's knowing you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”
Mrs. DuBose was a courageous woman, and Atticus was able to make that point to Jem. This is a reinforcement of the same lesson he tried to teach both his children when he had to shoot the rabid dog--courage and strength have nothing to do with a weapon.
The closing argument Atticus Finch makes at Tom Robinson's trial is one of the great fictional speeches about equality. In part he says:
“But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal--there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution gentlemen, is a court. It can be the Supreme Court of the United States or the humblest JP court in the land, or this honourable court which you serve. Our courts have their faults as does any human institution, but in this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are created equal."
Atticus is not just saying this in an attempt to sway the jury; he believes it and he lives it. This is the lesson he hopes to teach his children, but it is also a view he wants the rest of the world to espouse.
Scout, his young daughter, does not have a real sense of empathy for the plight of others. She is impatient, rude, and argumentative with people who are different that she--until Atticus gives her this advice:
"[I]f 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 into his skin and walk around in it."
Finally, Atticus is a man who follows his conscience, and his defense of Tom Robinson is an example of that. Atticus defends, really defends, Tom because he could not live with himself or answer to God if he did not. He says:
"This case, Tom Robinson's case, is something that goes to the essence of a man's conscience. Scout, I couldn't go to church and worship God if I didn't try to help that man."
The highest compliment anyone pays Atticus in this novel is spoken by Miss Maudie, though Scout does not really understand it at the time. Miss Maudie tells Scout that "Atticus Finch is the same in his house as he is on the public streets." That speaks to the consistency of Atticus Finch in these moral qualities as he lives his life.
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