At first glance, the first chapter of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee seems to contain a lot of background information that is interesting but not necessarily relevant. The character of Simon Finch is a good example. Simon Finch is an ancestor of the Finch family, and “a fur-trapping apothecary from Cornwall whose piety was exceeded only by his stinginess” (ch 1). Through the description of Simon, Lee artfully foreshadows some of the major themes of the book, including prejudice and persecution, standing up for one’s principles, and the importance of heritage. However the concept of hypocrisy is also introduced.
Through the story of Simon Finch, we are introduced to the concept of persecution and how to respond.
In England, Simon was irritated by the persecution of those who called themselves Methodists at the hands of their more liberal brethren, and as Simon called himself a Methodist, he worked his way across the Atlantic to Philadelphia, thence to Jamaica, thence to Mobile, and up the Saint Stephens. (ch 1)
Although the persecution presented in the story is against Boo Radley and the black population, the persecution of Methodists, a religious group Simon Finch seems to loosely associate himself with, foreshadows later issues of religion (the Radley family) and prejudice (Tom Robinson). Simon Finch stood up for what he believed in. He was principled, as Atticus Finch is later.
We are also introduced to hypocrisy early in the novel through Simon. Simon’s religious beliefs were used for profit, because “mindful of John Wesley's strictures on the use of many words in buying and selling, Simon made a pile practicing medicine” (ch 1). Another example of Simon’s hypocrisy is his ownership of slaves.
So Simon, having forgotten his teacher's dictum on the possession of human chattels, bought three slaves and with their aid established a homestead on the banks of the Alabama River some forty miles above Saint Stephens. (ch 1)
Simon’s story demonstrates the importance of heritage to people in the South, as “it was customary for the men in the family to remain on Simon's homestead, Finch's Landing, and make their living from cotton” (ch 1). Atticus and his children share Simon’s legacy, both in terms of values and monetary resources.
Atticus derived a reasonable income from the law. He liked Maycomb, he was Maycomb County born and bred; he knew his people, they knew him, and because of Simon Finch's industry, Atticus was related by blood or marriage to nearly every family in the town. (ch 1)
This passage is also significant because it demonstrates how Maycomb is a family in some ways, and another reason why the folks look up to Atticus Finch.