The world can be a scary place when the mob takes over. When people band together, put their hands over their ears and refuse to listen, it can be dangerous to step out of line or go against the grain in any way. It is in times like this, when injustice is being perpetrated, that the people who aren’t being victimized need to stand up against those forces. Atticus Finch, one of the most beloved characters in literature, goes against his neighbours and the people in his small town to make sure that justice is served.
To Kill A Mockingbird is told from the perspective of Atticus’ daughter, Scout (Jean Louise). The Great Depression is raging and in Alabama, the divide between the races is wider than anyone can ever remember it being. Tom Robinson, a black man has been accused of raping a white woman named Mayella Ewell. Atticus, a court lawyer, is appointed to defend Tom Robinson and not only agrees to do so, but puts himself at risk to keep his client safe.
Atticus Finch is seen as a paragon, idolized by Scout and by his son, Jem. He is a man of moral character and who won’t stand for injustice. While Atticus’ stance on racial relationships is left ambiguous in many ways, there’s no denying that he’s willing to step in and do what’s right. To Kill A Mockingbird feels in many ways like we’re watching a man trying to hold back the waves by sheer force of will. While there’s little danger of Atticus being dragged under (he always feels too competent and in control of the situation), the uncertainty is whether or not he’ll be able to turn the tide.
And when it comes to what’s right, how much risk is acceptable? Atticus must decide if this fight is worth is own life or even more importantly, the lives of his children.
While the story is told from Scout’s point of view, it’s Atticus who is centre stage throughout the novel. He commands the attention of the reader every time he enters the scene, much the way that a father would command his childrens’ attention if he was the only parent. Although the relationship between Atticus and his children is a main feature of the book, as well as Scout learning about the strange workings of the world, there is a strong undercurrent of justice running throughout the book. One of the reasons that Atticus is so beloved is due to his refusal to bow to bullies and cowards if that means making a liar out of himself or compromising his principles.
Whether or not that will be enough is at the heart of To Kill A Mockingbird.
So when you see injustice running rampant in the streets and no one else is standing up against it, what do you do? Do you bow your head and give way or do you make your stand against it?
A lot of schools still teach To Kill A Mockingbird in their classrooms and we all learn to live as Scout, chasing after a grownup ideal in Atticus Finch that may one day be revealed to be too good to be true. Until then though, we can raise our head up high and follow in his footsteps because there are good people in the world and we just need to be strong enough to emulate them.