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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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Who is Atticus Finch and what is his role in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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Atticus Finch is a prestigious attorney in Maycomb, a man from one of the "old families" who is the father of two very bright children, Jem and Scout.

The character of Atticus Finch is modeled after the author's father, Amasa Coleman Lee, a man similar in disposition to Atticus. Mr. Lee defended two African American men, a father and son, who were accused of killing a white storekeeper. Much as in the novel, this defense of the men was controversial, and the case was lost and the men were hanged.

Atticus Finch is a virtuous man who puts into practice his words and beliefs. He always practices what he tells Scout early in the novel:

"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view--" (Ch.3)

Throughout the narrative Atticus practices this precept. He allows Mr. Cunningham to pay for services with produce from his farm, he is gracious to Mrs. Dubose despite her vilification of him to his children because he understands that she is a morphine addict, and he is polite to Mayella Ewell, who lies about the innocent Tom Robinson, because he understands her moral and social deprivation.

Ever the gentleman, Atticus does not want to shoot anything because he knows he has an unfair advantage, nor does he react when Bob Ewell spits tobacco juice in his face. Atticus is even too ethical to allow Jem to be excused from possibly causing the death of Bob Ewell.

Atticus lives by his conscience, as well. He feels himself morally obligated to defend Tom Robinson. He tells his daughter,

"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." (Ch.9)

Atticus is a loving father who talks to his children as though they, too, are reasonable adults. He is humble, also, and in the end thanks Boo Radley for saving his children from the despicable Bob Ewell. Indeed, the words of Marc Antony in Julius Caesar befit Atticus Finch:

He, only in a general honest thought...
His life [is] gentle, and the elements
So mixed in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world, "This [is] a man!" (5.5.71-75)

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Not only is Atticus the wise and humble lawyer who defends Tom Robinson against the charge of rape in the Mayella Ewell case, Atticus is also a state representative for Maycomb County and has to make trips to the state capitol to help govern the state of Alabama.  Aunt Alexandra comes to stay with Scout and Jem when Atticus is in Montgomery and also to help with the children during the trial.  Atticus needs Aunt Alexandra to watch the children because he will be working long hours, and he is concerned for the safety of the children due to possible backlash from the town people for defending Tom Robinson.  The fact that Atticus is a politician and public servant elected by people in his county shows just how much respect he has earned as a lawyer and as a man.

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Atticus Finch is a lawyer in Maycomb, Alabama. A single father, he is the father of Jem, his twelve year old son, and seven year old Jean Louise "Scout" Finch. He takes on a case of advert racism in his hometown, defending a black man against the injust charges of rape against a local white woman.

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Who is Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee?

The most comprehensive analysis and detail on the character of Atticus Finch can be extracted from an essay written by Notre Dame Law professor Thomas Shaffer titled, "The Moral Theology of Atticus Finch." It was published by The University of Pittsburgh's Law Review, volume 42, in 1981.

In this essay, Atticus Finch is described as a private practice lawyer, father, widower, and member of the Methodist church, who lives and works in the rural Maycomb, Alabama.


 Atticus is a descendant of Simon Finch, who was an immigrant to Alabama. Simon Finch, Atticus's father,  made his fortune in farming despite being a trained physician. The farming was done in a riverside plantation which he named Finch's landing. There, he raised Atticus, Atticus's brother John Hale Finch, who will eventually also become a physician like his father, and Atticus's sister, now known as Mrs. Alexandra Hancock. Alexandra and her husband, James, lived together in the farm after the brothers left. 


Atticus got married, but his wife died in 1928. Their children, son Jeremy (Jem) and daughter Jean Louise (Scout), were born in 1922 and 1927 respectively. This meant that Atticus was left to care for his small children all on his own until he got the hired help of Calpurnia, an African American woman who became more like an extended family member due to the care and discipline she was able to impart upon the Finch family.

Work and Studies

Atticus DID NOT attend law school. He was admitted to the Alabama Bar through the Supreme Court after doing a law apprenticeship in Montgomery, and because he also represented Maycomb as a legislator for a long period of time. His firm is a civil law practice but, as a general attorney, he also defended in criminal court. His most famous case is Tom Robinson's, which is detailed in To Kill a MockingbirdAtticus was 51 years old when he tried the case, which ended in the conviction of Tom Robinson for capital rape in 1935. 

Additional facts

Atticus says that an issue with his left eye was genetically inherited by all Finch males. He is also a man of strong character, integrity and high moral values, which he tries to teach to his children. Most of his personality is palpable through his actions, which show kindness, compassion, a need for justice, and great tolerance. 

The Robinson case

According to the essay, Atticus may have been appointed to represent Tom Robinson because, at the time, the Supreme Court of the United States had ruled to enforce that poor defendants with no means to pay for a lawyer were entitled to the best defense possible. However, Shaffer writes, there is a possibility that Judge Taylor, although a progressive man for his time, may not have expected Atticus to defend Robinson with the passion and energy that he displayed throughout the trial, simply because of the chances that he would lose the case anyway, which he did. 


Regardless, we can describe Atticus as a true hero. He has all the spiritual and behavioral qualities of someone who holds himself, and those who he loves, to very high standards of citizenship. He is not a hypocrite, either. He enforces and abides by the moral code that he has developed for himself and his family. He is a strong man, a true man in every sense of the word. He is someone very uncommon in today's world. 

The Moral Theology of Atticus Finch

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Who is Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee?

Atticus Finch is the father of Scout, the narrator of To Kill a Mockingbird.  A highly principled man, Atticus Finch is calm, wise, and intelligent; and he serves as a moral exemplar for the people of Maycomb. His strong sense of fairness and morality put him at odds with the racist townspeople when he agrees to defend Tom Robinson, a black man who was accused of raping Mayella Ewing, a young white girl.  According to what Scout relates, he attended law school in Montgomery.  

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