Knowing how the events of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird unfold, if Atticus could go back to the moment when he was asked to defend Tom Robinson, would he say yes or no? Why?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Throughout To Kill a Mockingbird, author Harper Lee makes it crystal clear that Atticus does not base his decisions on consequences. Instead, he bases his decisions on what he feels is morally right or wrong to do. Therefore, we know that, despite the ridicule he faced from the town and the threat to his children's lives, Atticus still would have made his decision to defend Tom Robinson.

The main reason why Atticus would still choose to defend Robinson is because he views it as the morally correct thing to do. One reason why he views it to be the correct thing to do is because it is his job as a defense lawyer to give all charged with a crime the best defense possible; it is his job to uphold the legal principle that all in the US are viewed innocent until proven guilty. Another reason is because he is well aware no concrete evidence exists to prove Robinson's guilt. As Atticus explains to his brother in Chapter 9, all that is being used as evidence in the case are the witness statements of Mayella and her father:

It couldn't be worse, Jack. The only thing we've got is a black man's word against the Ewells'. The evidence boils down to you-did--I-didn't. (Ch. 9)

A third reason why he knows it is morally correct to defend Robinson is because he knows from Calpurnia that Robinson is an upright, Christian man, as we see Atticus explain to Scout in the following:

He's a member of Calpurnia's church, and Cal knows his family well. She says they're clean-living folks. (Ch. 9)

Finally, Atticus is not one to back out of doing something just because other people raise objections and make things difficult. Instead, he makes all decisions based on his conscience. We learn Atticus bases all of his decisions on his conscience when Scout comments that "most folks seem to think they're right and you're wrong" (Ch. 11). Atticus makes the following reply to her comment:

They're certainly entitled to think that, and they're entitled to full respect for their opinions ... but before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience. (Ch. 11)

In short, we know Atticus would continue to defend Robinson, even if doing so poses a threat to his children's lives, because he knows doing so is his moral responsibility due to his profession, and he always does as his conscience tells him to do.

kapokkid eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Knowing the deep and abiding love that Atticus has for his children and his great desire to teach them right from wrong, I think it is obvious that Atticus would agree to defend Tom even if he knew that he would lose. He certainly had a good idea from the very beginning that the task was an uphill battle. From the way that he treats other people in the novel, particularly those who are shunned by the rest of Maycomb society, it is quite clear how important treating people in a christian manner is to Atticus.

Since Tom was arguably the man in town who needed his help the most, Atticus simply could not turn the man down. He had the skills to help and no one else was willing to do so.

If I held the same beliefs as Atticus, it would be impossible to turn away a man in such desperate need. It would be particularly difficult knowing that I believed he was innocent and simply the victim of angry and frightened people.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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