Examine How Lee Presents the Character of Atticus in to Kill a Mockingbird

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Throughout the novel, Atticus plays a central role in all of the major events, constituting as the moral backbone of the Maycomb society and the voice of reason for the oppressed. Lee writes Atticus as being very unorthodox for his time, and as being the person who will help usher in moral change into the Maycomb society. Due to time of writing, it seems that Lee presents the character of Atticus in such a way to impress upon the public that, like the Maycomb community, they should also review their prejudiced views.

Due to the very striking presentation of Atticus in the novel, he is one of literatures most well known characters, who has left his mark in the world of law as well. Atticus is presented by Lee as being near perfect, he has perfect moral values, he is fair and respectful, and most importantly, due to the main theme of the book, he is unprejudiced. Even at the first mention of him, Lee shows how Atticus is all for fairness and diplomacy, he says that Scout and Jem are both right when they are musing on what led to the events mentioned in the book.

He also values fair opportunities; he [11] “invested his earnings in his brother’s education”. The book is set during the great depression, so this generosity is further accentuated, and this I think is done on purpose by Lee to convey how Atticus is very altruistic. To provide contrast between what is right and wrong, Lee has written the character of Atticus as being very different from Maycomb’s social expectations, which mostly are socially prejudiced and hypocritical.

In the opening section, Scout notes how Atticus moved away from his homestead of Finch’s Landing, and it could be seen as an implicit reference to the fact that he has also moved away from the social norm as well. For example, when Atticus lived at Finch’s landing he used to shoot doves for recreation, but now he realises that shooting is wrong and he tries to cover up the fact he has such a deadly talent. Atticus is also shown as being a very good, if unorthodox, parent; he is [11] “courteous” with is children, he respects them-meaning they ‘mind’ him, and overall he is very truthful with them.

He does not like [280] “connive[ance]”, so Lee provides consistency throughout the book by making Atticus always take the route where nothing is hidden from his children and there are no sugar-coatings. When Atticus explains something to his children, he often uses [37] “last-will-and-testament diction”, yet Scout notes how they were at [37] “all times free to interrupt” for a translation, showing how he realises that children need to be treated with respect, yet you must also note their differences as well.

He also realises that hiding information from people who will be affected by it is useless, if anything it will make everyone worse off, so he is very truthful with his children, he realises that [93] “when a child asks [a question], answer [them], … , they can spot an evasion quicker than adults, and evasion simply muddles ‘em. ” Lee depicts here a very different view on parenting compared to the social norm, and this juxtaposition of contrasting views helps Lee to present Atticus as being a very different yet also a better parent, even now, when the societal norm is much more open than what is depicted in Maycomb.

Atticus is one of the few people in the town who can readily understand people and look at a situation from different angles. He does this by using the invaluable part of information he tries to impart to Scout, [35]”You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view”. This ability and willingness to consistently do this helps show him as a very understanding character, who is free from the [94] “disease” of prejudice. Also, as aforementioned, he tries to help his children have this clear viewpoint as well.

Lee does this to show that he truly believes in his values, and does not have double standards for different people. For all his brilliance, Atticus does not, throughout the book, try to show off or boast about his characteristics, which are coveted by the community and also by many readers as well. Any person [104] “in their right mind[] never take[s] pride in their talents” according to Miss Maudie, and Atticus is a prime example of this, when Heck goes to explain to Jem that his father is the [] “deadest shot in Maycomb county”, Atticus interrupts him, as he does not want to show off.

Also, he realises that flaunting a talent so deadly is never the right thing to do. When writing about Atticus, Lee depicts a very moralistic character who always does what he ought to do, and this is always very moral; the best example of this is the fact that Atticus is the one lawyer who people like Judge Taylor [242] “trust [] to do [the] right [thing]”, and the only lawyer they believe will give a chance to Tom Robinson of being acquitted. This is because, as the public note, Atticus [169] “aims to defend [Tom]” and to put as much effort into the trial as possible.

He feels that he would not have any self respect if he didn’t, and this shows how firstly he is very moral, but also how this moral lifestyle is so engrained and a part of his life, that he could not bear part with it, as it would be totally wrong from a moral point of view. Atticus, from what we can see in his actions, and according to Scout, is the [106] “bravest man” who lived. However, consistent with other parts of his life aforementioned, this bravery does not conform to Maycomb’s social expectations.

Atticus [106] “hate[s] guns” and violence, and he is not very [95] “manl[y]” according to Scout before she is educated by Atticus. Scout’s view is one shaped by the community she lives in, therefore also reflects it; this shows how the general Maycomb community have a very different view to what courage is. Unlike Atticus, they believe bravery is a “man with a gun in his hands”. Atticus is opposed to violence, and coupled with his moral values, we can see where this view comes from. Lee’s consistent description of Atticus shows a man who is a non-conformist, yet when we see his views, they seem more logical.

To his, more logical, standards, we can see that Atticus is a very brave man, he is someone who, even if [118] “[he’s] licked before [he] begin[s], …, he begin[s] anyway and [he] sees it through no matter what”. Atticus is someone who brings something refreshing to the very rigid 1930s American community and their social values. He is, as aforementioned, is very different to what people expect of him, yet he is still respected by the community because he is respectful, because of his family’s standing and also because he is white.

However, this view of who [135] “fine folks” are is not one Atticus totally shares. Throughout the book, we see him explain to Scout and Jem who a good person is: they are people who persevere; they are people who look to do what ought to be done, not what people expect them to do; they are moral. This view of things gives a stark comparison between him and other people in the Maycomb community, who instead of viewing fine folks as [135] “people who did the best they could with the sense they had”, they view them on social standings and hereditary, something people have no control over.

This consistent depiction of Atticus helps separate him from from other Maycombians, and so helps Lee give a better contrast between right and wrong. When Atticus holds a different view to someone, he always respects it, however, he does like to explain to people why he holds his views. His [151] “dangerous” question was [151] “Do you really think so…? ”; this is not literally dangerous, but it may endanger the views of the other person and their basic views of the world around them.

This explaining happens often in the run up to the trial, as many people [111] “think they’re right and [Atticus] is wrong” about how one would go about defending a black man. He tells his brother that the trial is very personal, and he shows this in his explanations: he says [81] “[he] couldn’t hold [his] head up in town, …, [he] couldn’t even tell [Scout] or Jem not to do anything anymore”. This explanation is in line with the moralistic view we have seen of Atticus through the rest of the book.

Also, he touches on the theme of respect, something vitally important to him; he feels that he would lose all self-respect if he did something so immoral. Atticus is shown as a very moral person, and in the book, this continually helps him to educate his children in the ways of life. The book ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ comes under the category of a Bildungsroman, a story where the main protagonist, here Scout, grows in age and maturity. In To Kill A Mockingbird, this mainly happens by Atticus teaching his children both explicitly and implicitly the ways of dealing with the world.

The most resonating line regarding this topic comes early in the book, helping Lee leave an impression on the reader. Atticus says “you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view”. This insight helps teach his children grow in their world view, by understanding a person’s circumstances, he tries to teach them that “most people are [nice] when you finally see them”. The title of the book comes from a line from the book. It is significant that it is Atticus is the one who says it, as this re-inforces the fact that he is central to the story, and also, that Atticus is the voice of morality during the book.

Also, the context of the quote is crucial – the line [96] “it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” is mentioned when Atticus again is trying to educate his children so that they can turn into the role model citizens he wants them to be and he is. This lesson is also about moral values, and is referring to the fact that innocent people do not deserve to be harmed. Atticus is an idealist and an optimist, he believes that he should [115] “love everybody”, and that they all deserve it, because from what we see of him, he believes that everyone has both good and bad values, and there are no people who are [275] “mean as hell”.

However, from what we see in the last major event of the book, Bob Ewell’s revenge, we see that Atticus’ optimism is bordering on him being cavalier, but not in the normal way; instead of showing no respect and being arrogant so that he does not take notice of something, he is doing the opposite – he is being too respectful. This idealism may be good for the children, but it nearly ended up costing them their lives, so this does cast doubt on the ‘perfect’ parenting technique we see from Atticus in other chapters.

Attticus however is not swayed from his moral perch, when Tate confirms that it was Bob Ewell who carried out the attack, Atticus does not find himself able to [275] “conceive of a man who’d [do something so mean]”, and when lovingly putting Scout into bed, Lee still continues to present Atticus as being moral and his last line, which is quite striking considering previous events, is that [287] “most people are [nice] when you finally see them”. Atticus hasn’t lost his belief in the good of people.

The reader can see that Atticus will continue to consider people as inherently good, and that he will continue to teach his children the life lessons that will eventually shape them into valuable citizens. As a father, Atticus realises that his most important role is to be a mentor for his children. He does this in the traditional sense – he teaches Scout to read from a very early age – but, his role as a teacher, in the book at least is in a much more important area. Most of Atticus’ teaching is connected with some sort of event, e. g. he teaches the children about bravery when they are pushed into contact with Mrs Dubose.

This form of teaching means he is more successful and his children, if they do not appreciate it at first, will be better off for it. Unlike other teachers and their methods, Atticus is not overbearing or forceful; instead, he relates lessons to real situations, so that the children reflect more on their actions. To be at end: Atticus is presented as being near flawless, he is the perfect upholder of morals, he is not prejudiced, and he is the best parent in Maycomb. However, this consistent description by Lee of Atticus makes him seem ‘bigger than life’, slightly unconvincing character.

However, this presentation of Atticus could be viewed as being more a literary device, so that Lee could contrast this extreme to the very immoral people of Maycomb. Either way, this description does mean that the character of Atticus is not easily relatable to. Lee does include a personality flaw in Atticus, his idealistic over-optimism, yet this is just one flaw, so this does mean that even though Atticus does affect the reader, they will not find him something they can aspire to be, as he and his standards seem too good to be true.

The book is told from the viewpoint of Atticus’ daughter Scout throughout her developing years. This, on the surface, helps make the story more enjoyable to read, but the way it affects the view of Atticus means that it is highly likely Lee used such a viewpoint so that this effect could be brought into her presentation of Atticus. By having this viewpoint, we the reader, are put into Scout’s place. This means that while Atticus is teaching Scout something, or Scout has a revelation about him, we feel like we are in the same position, and this literary device helps make the reader respect Atticus more.

This technique is a very subtle one, yet Lee uses it very well in revealing the character of Atticus, and it helps in keeping with the ‘education’ theme, as it seems more interactive; the reader is more involved in the lessons learnt. Throughout the book, Atticus is a focal point of the story. The protagonist of the trial, the biggest event of the book, and also a main player in all other main events: Scout’s school experience; dealing with the mad dog; the Mrs Dubose episode and many others. The other haracters in the book are all related to Atticus in one way or another, [11] “[he] was related … to nearly every family in the town”. Here Lee is referring to blood/marriage relations, however, it could be perceived as being a subtle hint to the fact that most of Maycomb are affected by him; most rely on Atticus [242] “to do right”: his children, the black community, and most of the society, and in the book two are affected in a bad way – Bob and Mayella Ewell. This fact shows how important the character of Atticus, and also his presentation is to the story.

Lee is very consistent with the character of Atticus, as he is the stable pillar in the community while Maycomb goes through any turmoil, he does not become [95] “mad when anything involving a Negro comes up” like most of the community, and his qualities and values are held throughout. In the trial, Atticus defends a black man, but this defence is not just confined to the courtroom; Atticus is consistently the voice of reason and defence for the socially and racially shunned, and generally those who are victims of prejudice.

To Kill A MockingbirdEnding V2: Lee uses Atticus as a consistent plot device through the book so that she can juxtapose his moral views against the commonplace racism and prejudice of the book’s time period. However, due to her outstanding skills, Lee has succeeded in making Atticus not just another plot device, but a respected character throughout literature. Used: Heinemann Publishing copy of To Kill a Mockingbird

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