From Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, why is Atticus Finch idealistic?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

An idealist is a person who deeply values noble purposes. He believes that humanity can and should achieve its fullest potential. He is also an optimist, a perfectionist, and a visionary. Atticus Finch is just such a man, but along with all of these positive synonyms, he is not ignorant or naive, either. The question placed, though, is not if Atticus is idealistic or not, but why. What are the influences in his life that helped to create this humble, yet quietly powerful man. The answer is in the people and places that shaped him as well as his higher level of education and position as an attorney in the community.

First of all, Atticus is a multi-generational native of Maycomb County, Alabama. His ancestors settled in the county and called their land "Finches Landing." He has a strong sense of loyalty to his home and to his family. He left home to get his law degree, but he came back rather than make a home somewhere else. He also financially supported his brother through medical school. Scout describes her father's loyalty to his home county as follows:

"He liked Maycomb, he was Maycomb County born and bred; he knew his people, they knew him, and because of Simon Finch's industry, Atticus was related by blood or marriage to nearly every family in the town" (5).

Atticus's loyalty runs through the blood of the county because he's related to most of it. As a result, Atticus loves and has patience with the people who live there. Because of this loyalty and love, he wants his home and the people there to grow, prosper, and succeed. This can be seen in the way he is patient and kind with everyone. This love and loyalty also give him the motivation to believe the best is in everyone and to forgive them their shortcomings. 

Another reason why Atticus is an idealist is because he comes from a privileged family. Simon, the first one in Maycomb, also became wealthy enough to be self-reliant while also gaining the respect of his neighbors. People who are wealthy have time and money for education, which also places them in good positions to learn about the best things in life and the potential that one can achieve. That wealth would have been passed on if it had not have been for the Civil War. Scout describes his views in the following way:

"Simon would have regarded with impotent fury the disturbance between the North and the South, as it left his descendants stripped of everything but their land" (4).

Atticus didn't grow up wealthy like his ancestor, but that privileged, ancestral foundation still held true for him. Hence, he was the first Finch to leave the Landing to pursue a higher education. Along with a higher education came an understanding of what the world had been in the past, as well as what it could be in the future. People without a higher education usually do not have the depth and breadth of knowledge to support a belief in noble purposes. The education he gained, his chosen field of work, and the fact that he's very well-read all help to support a positive, idealistic mindframe for noble pursuits. 


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To Kill a Mockingbird

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