Who is Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee?
The most comprehensive analysis and detail on the character of Atticus Finch can be extracted from an essay written by Notre Dame Law professor Thomas Shaffer titled, "The Moral Theology of Atticus Finch." It was published by The University of Pittsburgh's Law Review, volume 42, in 1981.
In this essay, Atticus Finch is described as a private practice lawyer, father, widower, and member of the Methodist church, who lives and works in the rural Maycomb, Alabama.
Atticus is a descendant of Simon Finch, who was an immigrant to Alabama. Simon Finch, Atticus's father, made his fortune in farming despite being a trained physician. The farming was done in a riverside plantation which he named Finch's landing. There, he raised Atticus, Atticus's brother John Hale Finch, who will eventually also become a physician like his father, and Atticus's sister, now known as Mrs. Alexandra Hancock. Alexandra and her husband, James, lived together in the farm after the brothers left.
Atticus got married, but his wife died in 1928. Their children, son Jeremy (Jem) and daughter Jean Louise (Scout), were born in 1922 and 1927 respectively. This meant that Atticus was left to care for his small children all on his own until he got the hired help of Calpurnia, an African American woman who became more like an extended family member due to the care and discipline she was able to impart upon the Finch family.
Work and Studies
Atticus DID NOT attend law school. He was admitted to the Alabama Bar through the Supreme Court after doing a law apprenticeship in Montgomery, and because he also represented Maycomb as a legislator for a long period of time. His firm is a civil law practice but, as a general attorney, he also defended in criminal court. His most famous case is Tom Robinson's, which is detailed in To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus was 51 years old when he tried the case, which ended in the conviction of Tom Robinson for capital rape in 1935.
Atticus says that an issue with his left eye was genetically inherited by all Finch males. He is also a man of strong character, integrity and high moral values, which he tries to teach to his children. Most of his personality is palpable through his actions, which show kindness, compassion, a need for justice, and great tolerance.
The Robinson case
According to the essay, Atticus may have been appointed to represent Tom Robinson because, at the time, the Supreme Court of the United States had ruled to enforce that poor defendants with no means to pay for a lawyer were entitled to the best defense possible. However, Shaffer writes, there is a possibility that Judge Taylor, although a progressive man for his time, may not have expected Atticus to defend Robinson with the passion and energy that he displayed throughout the trial, simply because of the chances that he would lose the case anyway, which he did.
Regardless, we can describe Atticus as a true hero. He has all the spiritual and behavioral qualities of someone who holds himself, and those who he loves, to very high standards of citizenship. He is not a hypocrite, either. He enforces and abides by the moral code that he has developed for himself and his family. He is a strong man, a true man in every sense of the word. He is someone very uncommon in today's world.
The Moral Theology of Atticus Finch
Atticus Finch is the father of Scout, the narrator of To Kill a Mockingbird. A highly principled man, Atticus Finch is calm, wise, and intelligent; and he serves as a moral exemplar for the people of Maycomb. His strong sense of fairness and morality put him at odds with the racist townspeople when he agrees to defend Tom Robinson, a black man who was accused of raping Mayella Ewing, a young white girl. According to what Scout relates, he attended law school in Montgomery.