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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch is a respected lawyer and member of the state legislature. In chapter 12, there is a cartoon of Atticus in the newspaper titled "Maycomb's Finch." The cartoon shows Atticus "chained to a desk" and working while girls try to distract him. It is a compliment of his work ethic and proof that he is a respected individual.

It is through an unfortunate incident involving Scout and Cecil Jacobs in chapter 9 that the reader first learns about Atticus defending Tom Robinson against charges of rape. As Atticus is explaining this to Scout, he says, "there's been some high talk around town to the effect that I shouldn't do much about defending this man." It seems that people understand his obligation to accept the case but ridicule his decision to do his job well. Atticus intends to give Tom the best chance he can.

While the townspeople make comments to indicate their dislike of Atticus's stance and do little to hide their racist views, most people still respect him. Consider the events of chapter 15 when a group of men arrive at the jail with the intent of lynching Tom. One man asks Atticus, "He in there, Mr. Finch?" Atticus confirms that Tom is in the jailhouse and asks the men to be quiet because Tom is sleeping. Then men obey and whisper when they speak. While their arrival is for violent purposes, the men still show respect to Atticus.

As Judge Taylor announces the guilty verdict and Atticus begins to leave the courtroom, the African American citizens stand in a show of respect. The following morning, Calpurnia shows Atticus the many gifts in the form of food that African American citizens have left. Calpurnia says, "they 'preciate what you did, Mr. Finch."

Miss Maudie explains to the children that when the people are called upon to act as Christians, "we've got men like Atticus to go for us." Jem wishes more people felt this way, and Miss Maudie replies, "You'd be surprised how many of us do." This statement shows that while many townspeople are not yet ready to let go of racism and all that it entails, there are subtle clues that do indicate some support for Atticus.

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How the town treats Atticus changes dramatically once he takes on the defense of Tom Robinson. Prior to that, he is respected around town as an intelligent and capable lawyer. There are those who consider his methods of raising his children as unorthodox, but in general they don't feel it their place to meddle.

But once he decides to defend Tom Robinson, and in particular when he works very hard to try and prove his innocence, the town turns on Atticus. It gets to the point that some of the men are ready to harm him as they are intent on lynching Tom Robinson and Atticus is at the jail to protect him. His stalwart defense of Tom in the courtroom turns much of the town against him as they are unwilling to confront their own prejudice and hypocrisy.

There are those who remain loyal to Atticus, Calpurnia and her friends and family and Tom Robinson's wife, then widow. And there are certain townspeople like Bob Ewell who have always hated Atticus and use the excuse of the trial to attack him. 

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