In To Kill a Mockingbird, how does Atticus meet the criteria of Joseph Campbell's definition of a "hero's journey"?call,threshold,threshold guradians, helpers, mentor, challenges &...

In To Kill a Mockingbird, how does Atticus meet the criteria of Joseph Campbell's definition of a "hero's journey"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Joseph Campbell's Monomyth, or the "hero's journey," is one that is loosely followed in To Kill a Mockingbird with Atticus Finch as the hero.

1. In the Ordinary World, the hero receives a challenge. ("Call to Adventure")

The beginning chapters of the novel find Atticus Finch in an ordinary life. He goes to his office in downtown Maycomb, and he spends the evenings at home, reading his newspaper and conversing with his children. Christmas is spent in the traditional manner with his family at Finch's Landing. (Ordinary World)

It is during this holiday that Scout overhears her uncle, Jack Finch, talking to his brother.

"Atticus, how bad is this going to be? You haven't had much time to discuss it."

"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. The jury couldn't possibly be expected to take Tom Robinson's word against the Ewells'...." [Ch.9] (Challenge: Defense of an innocent black man in the Jim Crow South)

2. The hero needs assistance from someone. ("Supernatural Aid")

On the night before the trial of Tom Robinson, Atticus goes to the jailhouse and positions himself by the jail's entrance which he lights by hanging a single bulb on an extension cord. When a mob arrives, they demand that Atticus turn over Tom Robinson to them. As the situation becomes very threatening, Jem, who has anxiety about his father, arrives with Dill and Scout. When she sees Mr. Cunningham, the innocent Scout greets him and asks him about his "entitlements." Now singled out, Mr. Cunningham becomes uncomfortable about threatening Mr. Finch, who has been kind to him. This man then tells the others to disperse and the tension is diffused. Shortly afterward, Mr. Underwood tells Atticus that he had him "covered all the time" (with his shotgun) from his office window. [Ch.15]

3. The hero departs from his safe world into a special world. ("Crossing the First Threshold")

After the harrowing night at the jailhouse, Atticus enters the world of the courtroom in which Lady Justice should be blind. Instead, she sees color. Atticus does his best to bring into question the credibility of Mayella and Bob Ewell. For one thing, the bruises on Mayella have been inflicted by a left-handed person. Yet, Tom Robinson's left arm hangs uselessly from his shoulder as a result of a working accident. Further, Atticus is up against the world of Jim Crow with a jury of twelve white men.

4. The hero faces his worst fears and undergoes tests of his character and ordeals. ("Road of Trials")

Before the trial, Atticus is confronted by his sister's skepticism about his personal beliefs, as well as by her criticism of his parenting of Jem and Scout. He is insulted and called all sorts of pejorative names, even by his neighbors and extended family. There are men who find the fact that Atticus plans to actually defend "a Negro" reprehensible. During and after the trial, Atticus is subjected to the insults of others. Even in his own home at the Missionary Tea, Mrs. Merriweather disparages Atticus with her innuendos about "well-meaning" people. Certainly, Atticus faces "the ordeal" of the hero during and after the trial. 

5. The hero receives some special recognition and gains wisdom ("Crossing the Return Threshold")

When Atticus Finch departs from the courtroom, the people in the balcony stand to demonstrate their respect for him in his genuine and sincere efforts to defend one of their community against the false accusations of the Ewells.

Later, Miss Maudie explains to Alexandra what a tremendous service Atticus has provided the citizens of Maycomb:

Whether Maycomb knows it or not, we're paying the highest tribute we can pay a man. We trust him to do right. It's that simple." [Ch. 24]

Atticus demonstrates the wisdom he has acquired after the trial when he tells his disillusioned son that the injustices done by whites against blacks are "...adding up and one of these days we're going to pay the bill for it." [Ch.23]

6. All conflicts are resolved. ("Rescue from Without"

The return to normal life signals the need for resolution for the other characters in the narrative. This resolution comes after Bob Ewell's vindictive attack upon Atticus's children. Thanks to Boo Radley, the villainous Ewell is removed from the lives of the Finch family, the children have matured, and Atticus and Jem and Scout can return to their normal lives.

appletrees eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The best way to answer this question is to review the plot of the novel and try to match each of these aspects of the Hero's Journey with similar points in Atticus' journey. Although the steps go in a particular order, matching them to specific plot points in a fictional narrative may mean they occur slightly out of order.

One threshold guardian for Atticus is Scout: despite her own struggles to be a good person, her strength of will and inherent honesty, as well as her precocious maturity in many aspects of her personality, mean that she becomes an effective (if young) mentor to Atticus, perhaps reminding him of himself and his own strong-willed youth.

The hero's journey is ultimately a search for self; usually the hero ends up learning that he/she always had what they were seeking for at the outset of the journey, but were unable to realize it at the time.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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