Harper Lee’s novel, “To Kill A Mockingbird”, was written in 1960 and set in the 1930s in Maycomb County, a small fictitious town in Alabama. It is a time and place dominated by economic depression, racial segregation and prejudice against African-Americans. Scout, the narrator of the book is similar to Harper Lee. Harper Lee is telling her own story of prejudice against African-Americans replacing herself with Scout. Lee’s father was a lawyer, like Atticus Finch. Atticus is presented to the reader as an educated, fair, well-respected gentleman. The narrator’s impression of Atticus is very different to the reader’s impression after reading the novel.
Scout’s point of view of Atticus, her father, in the first chapter is that he is “satisfactory”, the truth is that Atticus does a lot for Scout and Jem. He plays the role of both Mother and Father and he leads a busy work life as a lawyer. Scout hasn’t got a mother so she is harsh on her Father. We can see this in the way she talks of him as “feeble” and “nearly fifty”. As one reads the novel, Scout grows up and other points of view on Atticus show, we see a new light on Atticus, through Harper Lee’s use of language.
Atticus is the only parent of Scout and Jem, he teaches them many lessons, lessons of life and basic skills, like reading and writing. Unlike Uncle Jack, Atticus’s brother, Atticus is truthful when the children ask him something, he answers honestly straight away, no matter how embarrassing the question. Uncle Jack doesn’t answer the question asked, instead he just tells a different story. We can see that Atticus doesn’t agree with his strategy as he tells Uncle Jack “When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness’ sake. But don’t make a production of it…they can spot an evasion quicker than adults, and evasion simply muddles ‘em.” Atticus’s honesty with Scout and Jem, means that they trust him, and look to him for guidance. ““Don’t worry, Scout, it ain’t time to worry yet,” said Jem. He pointed… “See there, he’s not worried yet,” said Jem.”
Atticus runs his family like a judge. He’s the one in charge, and has a clear set of rules that he expects his kids to follow, but he makes sure that both sides have their say, unlike Uncle Jack. Scout tells Uncle Jack, “you never stopped to gimme a chance to tell you my side of it…when Jem an’ I fuss Atticus doesn’t ever just listen to Jem’s side of I, he hears mine too.”
Atticus’s main lessons of life to Scout and Jem are courage, empathy and equality. He teaches them empathy when Scout is trying to stay away from school and when she is complaining about the new teacher, Miss Caroline. “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” He finds empathy important and it is one of Lee’s main messages. We can see that Scout does learn the lesson because at the beginning of the novel, Scout thinks Boo Radley is a “malevolent phantom” and at the end of the novel she sees the street and their lives from Boo Radley’s point of view. “Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley Porch was enough.”
Atticus is one of the only men in Maycomb who understands others; the people of Maycomb aren’t too great at empathy. Prejudice is rife because white people cannot imagine what it’s like to be black. Dolphus Raymond pretends to be a drunk because it gives the people of Maycomb an excuse for his relationship with a black woman, they couldn’t understand him otherwise. When Bob Ewells spat in Atticus’s face at the end of the novel, he responded with empathy. “Jem, see if you can stand in Bob Ewell’s shoes a minute. I destroyed his last shred of credibility at that trial…if spitting in my face and threatening me saved Mayella