Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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What are some quotes that depict the internal and external conflicts that Atticus Finch faces throughout the novel?

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Internally, Atticus faces conflicts such as Atticus vs. passivity. Atticus's sister comes to stay with him and the kids and proceeds to begin running the household. During this time, Atticus struggles with his desire to avoid conflict. The kindness he shows people is often a great asset, but when his sister comes, Atticus must combat the tendency to please everyone in order to maintain some control over his household. This is seen when Atticus goes to scold Jem and Scout but then changes his mind and decides that his children do not need to follow the propriety that Aunt Alexandra outlined.

"This was not my father. My father never thought these thoughts. My father never spoke so. Aunt Alexandra had put him up to this, somehow."

The above quote shows Atticus's internal conflict with trying to please everyone. However, Atticus ultimately decides against enforcing Alexandra's words and tells the children,

"I don’t want you to remember it. Forget it.”

These quotes also show an external conflict that Atticus faces between himself and his sister.

Externally, Atticus faces Atticus vs. society when he goes to trial on behalf of Tom Robinson. This conflict is between him and the town of Maycomb. Because of the pervasive racism, Tom Robinson will likely be convicted of a rape that he obviously did not commit. Atticus takes the case and decides to defend Tom Robinson to the best of his ability, despite most of the town's gossip and judgement. One night, Atticus has to face a mob that includes a man named Mr. Cunningham. This mob wants to kill Tom Robinson. A quote that supports this conflict is as follows:

"Mr. Cunningham’s basically a good man," [Atticus] said, "he just has his blind spots along with the rest of us." Jem spoke. "Don’t call that a blind spot. He’da killed you last night when he first went there."

This shows that Atticus is in conflict with the ideology of racism as well as the actual men who threatened Tom Robinson.

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Atticus vs. Himself

In Chapter 9, Atticus is having a discussion about the upcoming Tom Robinson trial with his brother, Jack. Atticus understands that he has a difficult, if not nearly impossible, task ahead of him. His main conflict is with his decision to take on a case of this magnitude in the prejudiced town of Maycomb. Atticus is concerned that his decision to defend Tom Robinson will negatively affect his children. He says,

"You know what's going to happen as well as I do, Jack, and I hope and pray I can get Jem and Scout through it without bitterness, and most of all, without catching Maycomb's usual disease." (Lee 117)

Atticus vs. Society

In Chapter 15 , Walter Cunningham and the Old Sarum bunch surround Atticus at the Maycomb jailhouse outside of Tom Robinson's cell. Walter tells Atticus to move out of his way because they intend to harm Tom. This scene depicts Atticus' conflict with...

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Maycomb's racist community members. Atticus displays courage and integrity by saying,

"You can turn around and go home again, Walter." (Lee 202)

Atticus vs. Family

In Chapter 14, Aunt Alexandra approaches Atticus concerning Calpurnia's role in the family. Alexandra begins to argue with Atticus after Calpurnia took the children to her church when he was in Birmingham. Alexandra suggests that Atticus should fire Calpurnia. Atticus defends his decision to keep Calpurnia around. Atticus says,

"Alexandra, Calpurnia's not leaving this house until she wants to. You may think otherwise, but I couldn't have got along without her all these years. She's a faithful member of this family and you'll simply have to accept things the way they are. Besides, sister, I don't want you working your head off for us---you've no reason to do that. We still need Cal as much as we ever did." (Lee 183)

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