What influence does Atticus in To Kill A Mockingbird have on his family and community?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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As a man of integrity, Atticus Finch effects a moral influence upon his family as well as some members of his community; on others he effects negative reactions, stirring the darkness of their hearts.

POSITIVE INFLUENCE

  • Atticus talks to Scout after her disturbing criticisms of Scout and her father from her new teacher, Miss Caroline, stating what become the overriding theme: "You never really understand a person...until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." 
  • He teaches the children to treat everyone fairly and to respect them as a individuals and not to rashly judge them. These people include Walter Cunningham, Boo Radley, Mrs. Dubose, Calpurnia, Aunt Alexandra, Uncle Jack, Cousin Francis, Mr. Dolphus Raymond, Mr. Underwood, Mr. Cunningham, Mr. Gilmer, Tom Robinson and his family, and even Mayella and Bob Ewell as well as all the other members of the Maycomb community. When, for example, old Mrs. Dubose hurls invectives at their father and Jem retaliates by tearing off the blooms of her camellias, Atticus assigns Jem the task of reading to Mrs. Dubose and sitting close to her an hour a day for an assigned length of time. After she dies, Atticus explains that she had been a morphine addict, but she vowed to die free of this drug. Her struggles have caused her insulting attitude, his father explains to Jem, telling him also that Mrs. Dubose, who died "beholden to nothing and nobody...was the bravest person...."
  • Atticus in honorable. Despite his desire to not be involved with what he knows will be a travesty of justice, Atticus accepts the assignment of defending Tom Robinson because he cannot tell his children one thing, but do another. He explains to his brother that he does not want Scout and Jem to grow up with "Macomb's usual disease" of racial bias.
  • Atticus does not presume to judge others; instead he lives what he believes; or, as Miss Maudie says, “Atticus Finch is the same in his house as he is on the public streets.” He does not, for instance, preach his beliefs to others such as Mr. Underwood. But his bravery at the jail and his forthrightness at Tom's trial has an effect upon Mr. Underwood and Mr. Cunningham as a juror, both. Even when Bob Ewell spits tobacco juice in his face, Atticus "turns the other cheek" and does not stoop to Ewell's level as he knows that Ewell wants a fight.
  • Atticus does not compromise his principles. When he believes that Jem has killed Bob Ewell, Atticus does not try to have Sheriff Tate reword what has happened. Even when Tate tells him that Jem did not stab Ewell, Atticus refuses to accept his statement, believing Tate is only trying to protect Jem. Heck Tate has to be forceful in his argument in order to convince Atticus that he is not, in fact, trying to protect Jem.
  • Because of his sense of human dignity and his integrity, Atticus indirectly persuades his sister Alexandra to understand why he has taken the Tom Robinson case, and she learns a new respect for her brother. And, she perceives women such as Mrs. Merriweather as the hypocrites that they are. In addition, the entire black community holds him in high regard after the trial because they realize that Atticus defended Tom to the best of his ability. The Reverend Sykes tells the children to stand as their father leaves the courtroom, just as all the African Americans stand in the balcony with their parson.

NEGATIVE INFLUENCE

  • Atticus's act of seeking justice for a black man infuriates Bob Ewell, whose only claim to any social position is as a white man. Finch's treatment of Robinson as a man deserving of justice shakes Ewell's last vestige of any power in Maycomb. So, in his convoluted mind, he vows to destroy Atticus or his children in order to avenge the humiliation and embarrassment that he feels Atticus has caused him and Mayella.
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