Discuss the ideas developed by the author in To Kill a Mockingbird about the significance of idealism and truth in an individual’s life. I am a bit overwhelmed with this as I am only in grade 10....

Discuss the ideas developed by the author in To Kill a Mockingbird about the significance of idealism and truth in an individual’s life.

I am a bit overwhelmed with this as I am only in grade 10. Should I use the character Attiucs Finch, is in my opinion he is an outsider. He goes against the racial biases of the town and believes in justice fairness and equality. This is not what the majority of the folks in town believe in.  

As you can see I need help.............please

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Atticus Finch is certainly the character in To Kill a Mockingbird who most embodies an idealistic pursuit of integrity and truth. For, Atticus perceives himself as a model for his children who must set the example for what he wishes them to become. Always he has his fatherhood as a motivator for his speech and actions both. 

Here are some examples of Atticus's exercise of principles and idealism:

  • When a disgruntled Scout returns from her first day of school, bemoaning her humiliation at the hands of the "foreigner" Miss Caroline, unlike others in Maycomb who would malign her for being from the Yankee-sympathizing county of Winston, Atticus instead instructs his daughter in fairness: "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."
  • In his respect for every person, Atticus also orders the children to leave the Radleys alone by desisting in their pursuit of luring Boo Radley out of his seclusion.
  • When Scout picks up the "Nword" which is in usage at the time, Atticus tells her not to say it as it is "common," or something only vulgar people say. Further, he explains to his daughter that every lawyer has to take on at least one case in his lifetime that has a personal affect upon him. But, he urges Scout to "try fighting with your head for a change...."
  • When his brother Jack punishes Scout without first hearing what her cousin Francis has said to precipitate her actions, Atticus advises Jack to be sure to hear both sides first.
  • Then, when Jack suggests Atticus find a way out of taking the case for Tom Robinson, the principled Atticus replies, "But do you think I could face my children otherwise?" Further, he explains that, in his idealism, he does not want his children to grow up with "Maycomb's usual disease."
  • His respect for life extends even to animals as Atticus instructs his children on the use of their present of air rifles. He tells them not to shoot mockingbirds because they do no harm, only singing their hearts out, unlike bluejays that eat other birds' eggs.
  • Again in a lesson of respect, Atticus orders Jem to do restitution for his act of vandalism in retaliation for Mrs. DuBose's cruel words about his father. Jem must read to the dying woman, who is brave enough to go off morphine and die naturally. In his personal integrity and character, Atticus applauds her as exemplifying real courage, despite her venomous and derogatory words about him.
  • Valiantly, Atticus does not compromise his duty and integrity as he defends Tom against the Old Sarum Bunch who approach the jailhouse so that they can grab Tom and lynch him. Likewise, he does not back down when Heck Tate and others ask him to petition to have the trial moved to another venue.
  • Clearly, at the trial of Tom Robinson, Atticus demonstrates his sterling character as well as his idealistic hope that justice will be served the innocent man accused by the reprobate and racist Bob Ewell. Yet, Atticus remains ever the gentleman as he interrogates Bob and Mayella despite their false and perjurious statements.
  • Despite the travesty of justice that the trial becomes, Atticus retains some of his idealism as he tells his disconsolate son that "there is a shadow of a beginning" as the jury took a few hours before the verdict was reached.
  • Later, when the despicable Ewell spits in his face, Atticus does not waiver in his character, simply saying he wishes Ewell would not chew tobacco. Nor does he consider any compromise when circumstances indicate to him that Jem has killed Bob Ewell.
  • Even when he is convinced that Jem has killed their assailant (Bob Ewell) as he and Scout return from the school program, Atticus will not compromise his principles, telling Sheriff Tate, "If they hear of me [sic] saying down town something different happened--Heck, I won't have them any more. I can't live one way in town and another way in my home."

Truly, as Miss Maudie has told the children in Chapter 5, "Atticus is the same in his house as he is on the public streets." A fictional personage of magnificent character and integrity, Atticus Finch is an inspiration to readers of all ages. He is only an outsider in that he stands outside the conformity to custom for the mere sake of its existence.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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