Atticus says if he didn't take Tom's case he couldn't make Jem or Scout mind him. Why not?

Atticus says this because if he hadn't have taken the case, he would've been a hypocrite. He knew that Tom had a right to a fair trial, and if he had caved to public opinion and neglected to give him one, he would've been going against his belief in justice.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Atticus says that he could not make Jem or Scout obey him if he didn't take Tom's case because he would be compromising his morals and ethics. Atticus is a man of integrity and goes to great lengths to behave like a consummate role model to his children. Although Atticus...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Atticus says that he could not make Jem or Scout obey him if he didn't take Tom's case because he would be compromising his morals and ethics. Atticus is a man of integrity and goes to great lengths to behave like a consummate role model to his children. Although Atticus wished to never be involved in this type of high-profile case, he is determined to follow his conscience and do the right thing, which is to prove Tom's innocence.

Atticus has built his reputation as a moral, contentious man, who lives his truth and follows his heart. Atticus is not only a proponent of racial equality but knows Tom Robinson is innocent. If Atticus refused to take the case or did not give his best effort, he would compromise his morals and set a bad example for his children. Every moral lesson he ever gave Jem and Scout would be discredited and he would be no better than his hypocritical neighbors.

Atticus's credibility would forever be in question and his children would no longer have to obey him. As a man of integrity and honor, Atticus must defend Tom Robinson and challenge racial injustice to promote his beliefs and stand by his moral code. Atticus is aware that Jem and Scout will suffer because of his unpopular decision but is willing to accept the consequences to protect his morals and ethics.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Atticus Finch is, above all, a man of integrity. He strives to do what he knows is right now matter what the circumstances. In this case, Atticus knows that Tom Robinson deserves a fair trial and that he is the only lawyer in the area who can even come close to making sure he has one. It would be much easier for Atticus to refuse the case. He doesn't have to take it, and he realizes that his neighbors will likely turn hostile toward him if he does. But he allows his conscience (which is well-formed and well-trained) to guide his actions, and he takes Tom's case.

Atticus also understands that if he does not abide by his own conscience and stand up for what is right, then he has no business asking his children to do so. As a father, he has the responsibility to model integrity for Scout and Jim as well as demand it from them. If he fails in his own decision making, his children will see that. Atticus will come across as a hypocrite who orders others to do what he will not, i.e., the right thing.

Therefore, Atticus accepts Tom's case and determines that he will do his best to prove Tom's innocence and to defend Tom in every possible way. He even sits outside the jail one night as a first and last line of defense against the lynch mob. He builds a solid case for Tom. He actually proves the Ewells are lying. Yet when the jury is swayed by their own prejudice and declares Tom guilty anyway, Atticus keeps working on an appeal. He does not stop trying, and he does not stop encouraging Tom no matter what obstacles stand in his way.

Last Reviewed by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

At the beginning of chapter 9, Scout asks her father if he is defending a black man. Atticus then explains to Scout that he is defending a black man named Tom Robinson and mentions that it is a peculiar case. Scout then asks her father why he is defending Tom when the community disagrees with his decision, and Atticus tells her:

For a number of reasons. . . . The main one is, 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 or Jem not to do something again (Lee, 78).

Atticus is essentially saying that if he did not defend Tom Robinson, he would be considered a hypocrite, which is why Jem and Scout would not have to mind him anymore. Atticus is a morally upright individual, who believes in equality and justice. If Atticus did not defend Tom Robinson, he would be no better than the misguided racists who are willing to convict Tom simply because he is black. It is important for Atticus to demonstrate his integrity through his actions, which is why he plans to defend Tom in front of the prejudiced community. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In chapter 9, Cecil Jacobs tells Scout at school that her father "defends ni***rs". When Scout asks her father about what Cecil meant by that, he says that some people around town don't believe that he should defend Tom Robinson. Scout wonders why he is doing it if people say he shouldn't. Atticus responds with the following:

"For a number of reasons. . . The main one is, 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 or Jem not to do something. . . because I could never ask you to mind me again" (75-76).

Basically, Atticus is saying that he would be a hypocrite if he didn't take Tom Robinson's case. Atticus would be going against his conscience if he didn't stand up for what he knows is right. He knows that a black man deserves a fair trial just like a white man does. Some people in Maycomb don't believe this because they are prejudiced and racist. Atticus knows how people in Maycomb will go to church and preach "love one another," but then treat black people terribly. Atticus won't be like those people because he knows better and he believes better. Thus, if Atticus didn't take the case, then he would be a hypocrite. According to that line of thinking, Atticus also believes that his children wouldn't have to obey a hypocrite; therefore, they wouldn't have to mind him if he turned into one. He would lose credibility as a father if he were a hypocrite, too. It's tough for children to hear dad teach them to stand up for what is right at home, but then he doesn't go and do the same thing himself.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team