In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch models displaying honor when confronting obstacles. He models this to his children, as well as the residents of Maycomb, when he defends Tom Robinson when Tom is accused of raping Mayella Ewell.
Right before Tom is convicted, Scout describes her perception of the scene. She narrates,
I saw something only a lawyer’s child could be expected to see, could be expected to watch for, and it was like watching Atticus walk into the street, raise a rifle to his shoulder and pull the trigger, but watching all the time knowing that the gun was empty (chapter 21).
Scout can see Atticus’s poise in this moment, even as she perceives that Atticus already knows that the verdict will be guilty.
After Tom is convicted, Atticus chooses to leave through the center aisle of the courtroom, which is not his “usual exit.” Scout assumes that it is because “he must have wanted to go home the short way.” However, the reader can infer that it is because Atticus wants to display honor in this trying and unjust moment. While he is on his “lonely walk down the aisle,” “the Negros were getting to their feet” to display respect for Atticus as he passed (chapter 21). Atticus is displaying honor and poise in this moment to his children and the townspeople of Maycomb, who chose to convict an innocent man because he was Black instead of the guilty white man.
When Atticus is home, Scout notes that he looks “as though nothing had happened: his vest was buttoned, his collar and tie were neatly in place, his watch-chain glistened, he was his impassive self again” (chapter 22). When Jem, who is crying, asks Atticus how the townspeople of Maycomb could do this, Atticus tells him, “They’ve done it before and they did it tonight and they’ll do it again when they do it—seems that only children weep (chapter 22). Atticus is displaying the poise and honor that he needs to in order to be a good role model for his children. However, he knows that his honorable behavior has not extended to the rest of his community.