Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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Why is Atticus the most important character in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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One could argue that Atticus Finch is the most important character in the novel because his actions drive the plot, and he is responsible for providing Scout with an outstanding moral education. The novel is a coming-of-age story that chronicles Scout's early childhood and depicts her unique experiences growing up in the prejudiced town of Maycomb. Atticus plays a significant role in Scout's moral development by giving her important life lessons. Atticus teaches Scout about the importance of exercising perspective, controlling her negative emotions, and defending innocent beings. He also leads by example and maintains his composure when faced with adversity. Atticus's defense of a black man named Tom Robinson drives the plot and is the catalyst for most of Scout's life lessons. Atticus's decision to defend Tom is a talking point to teach his children about equality, tolerance, integrity, and race relations. Scout also ends up losing her childhood innocence during the Tom Robinson trial when she witnesses racial injustice firsthand. However, Atticus's valiant defense teaches Scout about real courage and the importance of following her own conscience despite popular opinion. Overall, Atticus could be considered the most important character of the novel because his actions drive the plot, and he provides Scout with an excellent moral education.

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Although Scout serves as the narrator and protagonist of To Kill a Mockingbird, her father Atticus becomes the single most important and memorable character. Atticus is the man who molds Scout's and Jem's lives, serving as a role model for both of the children. They finally come to understand that Atticus is something special. They hear that he is an extraordinary man from people like Miss Maudie, Dolphus Raymond, and even Aunt Alexandra; and they see for themselves that he has special talents, ranging from his secret marksmanship skill to his power in the courtroom to his repeatedly running unopposed for election in the Alabama legislature. His legacy is so great that he ranks as one of the most enduring characters in American literature. Though fictional, Atticus is a model to many generations of lawyers and attorney groups, displaying a brand of honesty and moral character that few other attorneys can claim. He was later brought to life by actor Gregory Peck in the film version of the novel, and his portrayal as Atticus Finch (in which Peck won the Oscar for Best Actor) is considered one of the finest performances in all movie history. Atticus is as near perfect as any man drawn by any writer: a character who is believable and admired because of his simple honesty and care for all human beings.

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Atticus is known as a hardworking and fair lawyer. He believes in justice, hard work, and openmindness. He goes to great lengths to instill these qualities in his children, Jem and Scout.

In the novel, Atticus works very hard to obtain the acquittal of a Black man named Tom. Throughout the trial, Atticus faces the opposition of his town and even threats of violence. Yet Atticus...

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refuses to back down and encourages his children to ignore the criticism they hear. Even though Tom is not acquitted, Atticus never gives up his principles, offering further evidence of his great qualities.

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What is Atticus Finch's importance in To Kill a Mockingbird?

Atticus Finch serves as the moral conscience of Maycomb, a man all people--white and black, rich and poor--can turn to in a time of need. He is the quintessential Southern liberal of the period, a Lincolnesque character who cannot tell a lie, treats all people equally, and rarely has a bad word to say about anyone (except possibly Bob Ewell). A widower, he does his best to bring up his children in an even-handed manner without depriving them of their needed independent streaks. He always finds time to answer their questions honestly, provide them with good advice, and take Scout on his knee for a story each night. Although Scout is the narrator, and the story mostly revolves around the two children (and sometimes their friend, Dill), Atticus emerges as the central and most powerful figure. In Atticus Finch, author Harper Lee (who based Atticus on her own attorney father) creates one of the most admired characters in all of American literature, and he is probably the most well known and best-loved lawyer of any novel. (Gregory Peck's Oscar-winning portrayal brought Atticus to life on screen, and his performance has routinely been voted one of the best in cinematic history.) In addition to being the best known lawyer in Maycomb, Atticus serves as the town's representative in the Alabama legislature, running unopposed each election. He is respected by all who know him, as evidenced by the lynch mob's willingness to obey Atticus's directive to speak quietly so as not to awake the sleeping Tom Robinson--the man they had come to kill.

     In obedience to my father, there followed what I realized later was a sickeningly comic aspect of an unfunny situation: the men talked in near-whispers.  (Chapter 15)

Even his detractors respect him for his diligence and perserverence. When one of the members of the Idlers' Club suggests that Atticus was only appointed to defend Tom and may not be motivated to fully give his all at the trial, another member disagrees.

     "Yeah, but Atticus aims to defend him. That's what I don't like about it."  (Chapter 16)

Atticus knows that he has little chance to actually see Tom acquitted, but like Mrs. Dubose, Atticus decides to tackle the case knowing he's

"... licked before you begin but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do."  (Chapter 11)

Atticus could not save Tom, but he did sway one member of the jury--one of the Cunninghams who had come to lynch Tom--to his side. It was only a small victory--a "baby-step"--for Atticus, who would live to be an old man and still be the one his grown children turned to "to settle an argument." In a typical, fair-minded Atticus manner he would say "we were both right."

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, why is Atticus such an important component of Tom Robinson's case?

Atticus is one of the most fair-minded, kind-hearted, morally-motivated men in the entire city of Maycomb.  Think of all of the examples that prove he is a defender of equality and justice.  He doesn't tell anyone that he is an excellent shot with a gun, because he doesn't want to brag about his talent, and doesn't want anyone else feeling poorly because they can't shoot as well.  He has a black woman working for him that he pretty much taught to read, and treats as a total equal, and has let raise his children.  He is an advocate for Boo Radley, telling his kids to leave the poor man alone and let him live his life, even if it is a bit of a strange way to live it.  He gives Scout the low-down on how she must attend school because it is the right thing to do, and that she must be kind and not fight with other kids who are taunting her.  He teaches Jem a valuable lesson about kindness and courage in the situation with Mrs. Dubose; Atticus even called her brave, even though she was a mean woman who constantly insulted him.

All of these examples show how Atticus was the right man to defend Tom Robinson in a case that was probably a hopeless one from the start.  He believed, more than anyone, that Tom deserved the most fair trial that he could have.  He believed that he wouldn't be able to look himself in the mirror every morning if he didn't do the right thing.  He knew the town inside-out, knew its people, and knew the best way to argue the case.  He believed in justice and equality enough to take the case, where others might have turned it down, and he stuck with it until the end, even though he suspected he would lose.  All of these reasons and more are why Atticus was the perfect man for the case, and Harper Lee spends much of the novel developing his character so that we actually believe he is the man for the job.

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