In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, which of Atticus Finch's behaviors and/or characteristics demonstrates that he is a respectful and non-racist man toward his community? 

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, there are several examples of Atticus' respectful and non-racist attitude.

Calpurnia has been with the Finches since the children were very small; after the death of their mother, Calpurnia has raised Jem and Scout. When Aunt Alexandra comes to stay with Atticus and his family, Alexandra sees no reason why Calpurnia should remain in the household any longer now that Alexandra has arrived. She believes that the black woman is a poor example for the children, especially when she learns that Calpurnia took Jem and Scout to her church. Atticus, on the other hand, does not see any problem: Calpurnia is a part of the family and he will not hear of letting her go. Early in Chapter 14, Atticus tells Alexandra:

Alexandra, Calpurnia's not leaving this house until she wants to. You may think otherwise, but I couldn't have got along without her all these years. She's a faithful member of this family and you'll simply have to accept things the way they are.

Tom Robinson is a black man accused of raping Mayella Ewell, a white woman. Atticus takes his case, defending him against the trumped up charges. Atticus is a man of integrity and morals: he not only believes in doing the right thing, but he also believes in living by example for his children. At the beginning of Chapter Nine, Atticus explains to Scout that defending Tom is the right thing to do. As a man who follows his own internal and strict moral compass, ignoring Tom because of his race would go against everything Atticus believes in and the kind of life he lives. Not defending Tom would show the community that everything Atticus has stood for in the past was a lie, and how could he tell his children what to do if he did not stand behind what he taught them about being decent people?

"If you shouldn't be defendin' him, then why are you doin' it?"

"For a number of reasons," said Atticus. "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.

Toward the end of Chapter 24, when Tom is killed, Atticus prepares to go out to the Robinson home in order to comfort his wife. Tom and his family are members of the community and Atticus sees people based upon who they are rather than the color of their skin or their standing in society. Atticus wants to be the one to tell Helen Robinson, taking Calpurnia with him to help.

"Cal," Atticus said, "I want you to go with me out to Helen Robinson's house— [...] Cal, I want you to come out with me and help me tell Helen."

Atticus could have let the police tell Helen that her husband had been killed, but Atticus wants to be there out of concern for Tom's widow, and as a gesture of respect.

At every turn, Atticus demonstrates that he is a respectful and non-racist man in the Maycomb community.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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