In To Kill a Mockingbird, what is Atticus Finch's attitude toward justice?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As a lawyer, Atticus Finch firmly believes that every person who is a citizen of the United States is entitled to justice under the law regardless of any circumstances. Personally, he believes in impartiality, fair play, and respect for others.

Early in the narrative, Atticus talks with a disgruntled Scout about her first day of school and the complaints of her teacher, who is new to Maycomb. He tries to teach Scout to be fair in her judgment by imagining herself in Miss Caroline's place and then taking another "look" at what has happened her first day through the viewpoint of her teacher. In other words, Atticus suggests that Scout "climb into her skin and walk around in it." Later on, when Jem, Scout, and Dill Harris continue their efforts to communicate with Boo, Atticus surprises them one afternoon when he walks home to retrieve some papers. After he discovers that the children are still "putting his [Boo's] life's history on display for the . . . neighborhood," (Ch.5) Atticus is irate that the children have no respect for Arthur Radley's privacy. He tricks Jem into an admission of what they are doing and shames him.

Numerous incidents throughout Harper Lee's narrative illustrate Atticus's deep belief in "justice for all." For instance, even though Mrs. Dubose insults him and his children, Atticus practices forbearance and is always polite to her. When an irate Jem knocks all the blooms from her camellia bushes after she has made a particularly vituperative remark about his father, Atticus orders Jem to go to Mrs. Dubose and apologize. When Jem returns, he tells his father that Mrs. Dubose wants him to read to her for a month. Jem asks, "Atticus, do I have to?" (Ch.11) His father replies, "Certainly." It is only after Mrs. Dubose dies that Atticus explains that the woman was addicted to morphine. However while Jem read to her, Mrs. Dubose mustered the courage to withdraw from the potent drug. She courageously wanted to die beholden to nothing and no one.

When he is given the assignment of acting as the defense attorney in the Tom Robinson case, Atticus does not refuse the case. He informs Scout that he has taken the Robinson case because his honor depends upon it. If he did not, he declares, "I couldn't hold my head up in town. I couldn't represent this county in the legislature; I couldn't even tell you or Jem not to do something again." (Ch.9) Atticus would feel like a hypocrite because if he refused the case, he would violate his principle of fairness to everyone. 

During the trial of Tom Robinson, even though he knows that Bob Ewell is a degenerate scoundrel, Atticus speaks politely to him and to Mayella, who has lacked the courage and integrity to admit the truth of Tom's innocence. Indeed, Atticus is more than fair to the Ewells before the crowd of Maycomb citizens. Despite all the vituperative comments of the citizens before and after the trial, Atticus is polite to everyone throughout the entire ordeal. He acts this way because he believes in the principle and the spirit of justice.

e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Atticus Finch is dedicated to a set of ideals, including a strong sense that justice should be defined that same way for people of all background and races. More generally, Atticus believes in fairness as the backbone of justice. We can see this attitude in a number of places in the novel. 

Atticus gives up shooting despite his prowess with a gun. This is due to his belief in fairness, according to Miss Maudie. This egalitarianism is generalized in his character and in his social attitudes.

[Atticus Finch] refuses to use his background as an excuse to hold himself above others and instead is a model of tolerance and understanding.

In dealing with Jem and Scout, Atticus is also fair. He listens to both sides of a conflict before making up his mind on who is to blame. He often seeks to make compromises with and between them. 

Atticus' sense of the necessity of fairness in legal justice is clearly demonstrated in his vigorous defense of Tom Robinson in court.

Atticus's own actions in arguing the Robinson case demonstrate this kind of courage, and his behavior throughout embodies values of dignity, integrity, determination, and tolerance.

Despite the difficulty and danger of defending Tom Robinson, Atticus feels that he must do his utmost in order to maintain the respect of his children. He explains himself repeatedly and says that he must be an example to his children in his actions and this animates his passion for justice as much as his ideals do.

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Atticus Finch is a proponent of equality and fairness in regards to justice. Atticus's ideas and attitude towards justice are revealed during his closing remarks at the end of the Tom Robinson trial. When Atticus addresses the jurors, he quotes Thomas Jefferson by saying that "all men are created equal." He then proceeds to argue that the one place where every person is considered equal regardless of race, class, gender, or religion is in an American court. Atticus believes that justice should be applied equally to each and every United States citizen, which is why he adamantly urges the jurors to judge Tom's case without prejudice or bias. Atticus also teaches his children the importance of equality and tolerance throughout the novel. As a morally upright man, Atticus believes that it is his duty to protect innocent beings and defend vulnerable citizens like Tom Robinson against injustice.

awesome30 | Student

Atticus was a fair man, and he knew what God wanted him to do.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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