In To Kill a Mockingbird, what is the whole point of Atticus's defending the black man with such interest? And why does it mean so much to him?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The character of Atticus Finch is the voice of the moral philosophy of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. It is he who expresses the major themes of this novel as he counsels his children to try and "climb into his skin and walk around" before judging a person, and not to shoot mockingbirds because it is a sin to kill this innocent bird that does nothing but sing its heart out as opposed to bluejays that prey upon other birds. When he is called upon to defend Tom Robinson against a false rape charge, Atticus knows that the trial will cause a great stir in Maycomb; nonetheless, he accepts the assignment because, as he tells his brother,

"But do you think I could face my children otherwise? You know what going to happen as well as I do, Jack, and I hope and pray I can get Jem and Scout through it without bitterness, and most of all, without catching Maycomb's usual disease."

This disease is the ingrained racial prejudice of the townspeople which keeps the jury from acquitting Tom of the false charge brought against him by Mayella Ewell because her father, the town drunk, does not want anyone to think that his daughter has been flirting with a black man. By exposing the Ewells as frauds whose motives are racially motivated, Atticus Finch hopes to lay open the injustice of their racial hatred as well as the moral disease of the townspeople that would have Tom, a "mockingbird," condemned in their own hearts.

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amandabrett's profile pic

amandabrett | eNotes Newbie

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Atticus Finch is the hero of the novel, because no one else is willing to stand up for the black man.  Judge Taylor appointed Atticus the lawyer to Tom Robinson, but this was not done without thought.  Judge Taylor knew that Atticus would do everything in his power to help Tom Robinson, even though at this point in history, no black man would be able to get out of the crime.  Atticus does everything he can to show the reader and town that Tom Robinson did not commit the crime of rape and he succeeded to do that.  One of the most powerful parts of the book is when the jury takes a long time to deliberate.  This means that for once the white man had really thought about the crime.  Atticus knows that he could never hold his head up in the town or be the father that he wanted to be for his children if he hadn't of fought for Tom Robinson.  He wants to set an example for them and show them that the world should not be black and white and that all people should be equal.  The court of law is the great equalizer and that is what Atticus tried to show.

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