Analyze Atticus Finch's character. Address whether Finch has any flaws, and explain how he conveys his beliefs to his children and his community.Please elaborate with examples.

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jk180's profile pic

James Kelley | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

I enjoyed reading the previous post, but I disagree with the openng statement that "It’s difficult, if not impossible, to find any flaws in Atticus."

One of the most interesting developments in the critical study of Harper Lee's novel in the last decade or so has been the ongoing reassessment of the character of Atticus Finch. Many of these reassessments -- by people ranging from literary critics to practicing lawyers -- have pointed to a range of complexities or flaws in this central character of the novel. He is idealized in the work, of course, but he is not at all removed from the oppressive social systems that govern the fictional world of Maycomb.

For example, Atticus comes from a wealthy white Southern line, one that not all too long ago held slaves, and he continues to enjoy the social privileges that come with that ancestry. The fact that he treats his black housekeeper well and that he defends a black man (once he's assigned to the case) doesn't undo his continued enjoyment of social priviledge tied to his race, class, and gender.

It may be unfair, of course, to see someone's birthright as a personal flaw. Atticus didn't choose to be born into a position of power, after all. Further details in the novel may point to more personal flaws. The most obvious flaw to me is that he preaches against stereotyping and demonizing other people even as he calls Bob Ewell as "trash." The term "trash" sounds to me like a wholesale dismissal of compassion for others, even if you don't like them.

See the enotes links below for more information.

amarang9's profile pic

amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to find any flaws in Atticus. He communicates his beliefs of tolerance and understanding in words and actions. He is reasonable, moral, just, direct, compassionate and always ready to look at things from the perspective of others: this is one of the major themes of the novel.  Atticus is the embodiment of reason in the novel. In fact, he is so good that he’s hardly believable; causing some critics to say he is such an idealization as to be unbelievable. He’s a stoic liberal, in the Deep South, 1930s; admired by the town, but occasionally scorned by those same people when he goes against their traditions. But, being too good to be true is not really a flaw.

Atticus must live by example, so he must take the trial and defend Tom to the best of his ability – not just because of his principles, but to serve as a guide to his children and the town. Some of the townspeople condemn him and his family for this and Mr. Ewell resorts to violence. But, this too is not Atticus’ flaw; His temperance and peaceful nature provide an additional example in that he realizes the town is not going to change their beliefs over night, so he takes the defeat in trial in stride. So, I would also argue that his reluctance to react with anger or violent revolution (to the town’s obstinate racism) is not a flaw. He reasons correctly that he must do what he can and hope that, like his children, the town will come to more rational conclusions. Unfortunately they (jury/town) do not.

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