Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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How does Harper Lee bring out different aspects of Atticus?  

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Throughout the novel, Atticus is revealed through the eyes of Scout, his young daughter; Scout, the narrator, is telling the story from much later, though. That perspective affects how readers gain access to him.

Scout goes to him with questions, and how he handles these moments shows different aspects of his character. One constant in these interactions is Atticus listening to Scout and taking her very seriously. For example, when Scout asks him if their family is poor, Atticus replies, "We are, indeed." He then proceeds to explain to Scout how the Great Depression has affected different people differently. He proves to be caring, intelligent, and thoughtful. He later explains the case he is trying in court to his brother, and we learn something Scout learns years later: that Atticus meant for Scout to hear the whole explanation. This scene develops Atticus's wisdom.

Scout has great admiration for her father, but she also views him as old and somewhat removed. Harper Lee develops a world in Atticus his children do not know when the rabid dog comes to town. The threat is real, and in the moment, the sheriff puts the fate of the town in Atticus's hands, shocking Scout and Jem. When Atticus accurately shoots the ill and dangerous dog, saving the town, Scout and Jem see his hidden talents and more physical strength in him than they had previously thought possible. With this scene, Lee hints at what we readers (and in truth Scout as well) do not know about Atticus.

Lee also builds Atticus's compassion and sense of morality throughout his time as Tom Robinson's lawyer. He takes the racially charged case despite the difficulties to him; some in the town do turn against him, and he is almost attacked by a mob at the jail one night. He also treats Mayella Ewell with compassion, showing he sees the complexities of the social system in Maycomb. His clear moral compass, though, draws a line at pitying her at the expense of Tom's freedom.

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I think you could answer this question by looking at the different "roles" we see Atticus in.

  1. Father: consider how he treats his children when he deals directly with father-children lessons.  He does not treat them like children in the way he talks to them, but he also does not let them see him worry or struggle with adult problems.
  2. Brother: when Aunt Alexandra (and Uncle Jack) Scout talks about "overhearing" conversations (which she frequently isn't giving the complete truth of the situation as a result).  Nevertheless, when he is dealing with his brother and sister, he acts very differently than he does with his children.
  3. Neighbor: consider his attitude toward Mrs. Dubose.  Also consider how he acts around his lifelong friend Miss Maudie.  Both very different from Atticus as father, but also very different from each other.
  4. Lawyer: Scout and Jem see a completely new side of their father in the Tom Robinson trial.  For Jem, this solidifies his admiration.  For Scout, who...

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  1. is younger, she has mixed emotions of fear, pride, and confusion.

Through the different roles Atticus plays, and Scout's observations of these roles, the reader gets to see many different aspects of Atticus' character.

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How does Harper Lee present the character of Atticus?

Lee presents Atticus as a humble, wise, thoughtful man. He raises two children on his own (with Calpurnia's help) and teaches them the ways of the world as if he were teaching adults. Atticus is able to understand the different perspectives of different people in town. Although he does not approve of some, he forgives bad behaviors of others because he understands that behavior comes from a host of other problems. For instance, in Chapter 23, Atticus reveals that Bob Ewell spit on him at the post office. Jem is irate and worried about what Bob might do next. Atticus tells Jem to consider Bob's perspective of things. 

Jem, see if you can stand in Bob Ewell’s shoes a minute. I destroyed his last shred of credibility at that trial, if he had any to begin with. The man had to have some kind of comeback, his kind always does. So if spitting in my face and threatening me saved Mayella Ewell one extra beating, that’s something I’ll gladly take. 

Such wisdom and generosity makes Atticus sound close to a saint.

Atticus never brags about his skill as a marksman. He only uses when it is necessary. He is consistent. In other words, his words and behavior are the same no matter where he is or what situation he is in. In Chapter 9, Jem asks Atticus why he is defending Tom, even if there is little chance of winning. Atticus responds: 

The main one is, if I didn’t I couldn’t hold up my head in town, I couldn’t represent this county in the legislature, I couldn’t even tell you or Jem not to do something again. 

In other words, Atticus always acts according to his principles. If he doesn't defend Tom (the right thing to do), he feels he would lose his credibility. Atticus always aims to do the right thing. He tries to teach Jem and Scout to do the same. 

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