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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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What was Atticus Finch's idea of the law, compared to Mr. Radley's, in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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Arthur Radley Sr. must have thought along the same lines as Atticus's sister, Alexandra, when it came to family heritage and "Fine Folks." He put the Radley name above the law when he was forced to deal with Arthur Jr.'s arrests, rejecting standard legal punishment for his son. Instead of the state industrial school (or a mental institution), Old Mr. Radley opted to confine Arthur Jr. within the walls of the Radley house.

Jem figured that Mr. Radley kept him chained to the bed most of the time. Atticus said no, it wasn't that sort of thing, that there were other ways of making people into ghosts.  (Chapter 1)

Thus, Boo was born. Despite their "foot-washing Baptist" faith, the Radley fortunes seemed to have fallen immediately afterward: Both Old Mr. Radley and his son, Nathan, were cotton speculators and, if their crumbling house is any indication, the Depression had also taken its toll on the once prosperous family.

From the day Mr. Radley took Arthur home, people said the house died. (Chapter 1)

Atticus is a by-the-book attorney whose innate honesty serves as an example for the entire community. There is no better example than in the final chapters of the novel when the obviously flustered Atticus is faced with the possibility that Jem had killed Bob Ewell. It is one of the few times that Atticus is not thinking clearly--Jem is unconscious and Scout has been hurt in the attack--and he does not recognize that it was Boo, not Jem, who knifed Bob. Believing that Jem must face the possible consequences, Atticus tells Sheriff Tate

"... nobody's hushing this up. I don't live that way... I don't want him (Jem) growing up with a whisper about him. I don't want anybody saying 'Jem Finch... his daddy paid a mint to get him out of that.' "  (Chapter 30)

Atticus was willing to let Jem face the consequences of his actions; he did not want his son turning out like Boo, hounded by "whispers" for the rest of his life because of the actions of the father.

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