Atticus Finch: A More Realistic, Yet Not Destroyed, Man

Atticus Finch is a well known character as the lawyer who defended Tom Robinson in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (TKM). In this novel, Atticus’s daughter, Jean Louise “Scout” Finch is the narrator recalling her experience of her father defending a black man accused of rape when she was six years old. At this time, she sees him as a role model for doing this seemingly generous task along with making enough time for her despite being a busy man (TKM). Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee, without question changes the character of Atticus Finch. He goes from being a heroic figure in Scout’s eyes to a racist as Jean Louise is now twenty six in the latter book. This drastic shift in Atticus Finch’s character suggests perhaps there are some factors under the surface revealing that Atticus’s character may not have changed as much as the disheartened To Kill a Mockingbird fans think. There is evidence from both To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman that perhaps Atticus is not such an innocent man in To Kill a Mockingbird, and also that he may not be so guilty in Go Set a Watchman and this may be in part why Jean Louise Finch goes a little easy on her dad when he crushes her childhood mentality.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, when Atticus Finch is delivering his closing argument in the trial, he reminds the jury of the ‘social crime’ for a white woman to kiss a black man (TKM). As he is at least in part justifying Mayella Ewell’s decision to find a cover up for her social injustice, he still generalizes that blacks and whites are seen as separate entities in his society. Because he ends up delivering such a powerful closing speech that should clearly show Tom Robinson is innocent of the crime, this statement can easily be overlooked. While Atticus Finch says “[he is] no idealist to believe in the integrity of our courts” (TKM), he never explicitly says that in general men and women should be treated equal. Other than this one statement, Atticus Finch is truly an iconic man who fought for equality. Unfortunately, this information is coming from the point of view of a six year old girl who would naturally see her only parent as an iconic figure so much of Atticus’s character is likely distorted. However, while the concrete evidence still makes Atticus Finch seem exceptionally more tolerant than he was in Go Set a Watchman, Atticus Finch still does not change as much as people may think.

Chapter 17 of Go Set a Watchman does a fantastic job of encompassing Atticus Finch’s character. He and Jean Louise begin talking innocently about their different social views. Gradually, Jean Louise begins to lose composure until she finally erupts when he asks her “what’s to prevent any Negro from going where he pleases in this country and finding what he wants.” (Lee 242) She blames him for not being hard enough on her and not telling her the truth about the way he truly feels. While this is going on, Atticus stays even keeled and explains to her “you’re upset by having seen me doing something you think is wrong, but I’m trying to make you understand my position.” (Lee 246) Atticus is still gentle with Jean Louise but he has to treat her a little bit differently as a twenty-six year old woman. It is common for parents to not tell their children things that might hurt their feelings and allow them to figure these things out on their own. Despite Jean Louise being on the verge of throwing a chair at him, Atticus simply replies with “Are you finished with what you have to say?” (Lee 248) This is a truly admirable quality of Atticus’s that holds through both To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman. Additionally, Atticus does not show himself as a highly racist character. By attending the citizen’s council meetings, Atticus is doing nothing malicious. Rather, he is simply relating to the way society feels about the pressing issue of race as he does in his famous closing statement.

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While Jean Louise has aged, Atticus was always a caring father that wanted the best for her.

There are changes in how Atticus expresses himself around Jean Louise at age 26 than when she was six, but many of his ideals, seen both implicitly and explicitly, are roughly the same. In the final chapter after Atticus has told Jean Louise he is proud of her for formulating her own opinions, she is clearly more at ease. Because Atticus’s character did not change all that much and he wanted the best for Jean Louise in her childhood by not informing her of his imperfections, Jean Louise rightfully eased up on her father. She understood that she was making him out to be a villain that he was not. She was ultimately able to understand that she was looking through her father’s good qualities and empathize with him for having to deal with her ranting. There is nothing in Go Set a Watchman that makes me not want to empathize with Atticus Finch for being thrown under a bad light.

Works Cited:

Lee, Harper. Go Set a Watchman. New York: HarperCollins, 2015. Print.

To Kill a Mockingbird. Dir. Robert Mulligan. By Horton Foote. Perf. Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, and Phillip Alford. Universal-International, 1962. Web.

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