Atticus’s strong will is adorned with a more caring and understanding nature, as well as some seemingly flawed aspects, as Harper Lee describes his interactions with his children. So far, as a lawyer, Atticus is portrayed as almost saintly, but for his character to seem more realistic, Atticus must possess some flaws. These flaws are presented in Atticus’s role as a father and show in greater depth key characteristics of Atticus’s personality. For instance, Atticus is often criticized for his inability to raise Scout as a proper young lady since she is always running around in overalls and getting dirty instead of wearing dresses and taking part in social parties and luncheons. However, the reader knows that Scout does not actually want to be a “proper” lady, and forcing her to do so would be going against Atticus’s motto: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view--until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” (pg. 31) This aspect is characteristic of Atticus’s understanding nature. He is able to disregard others’ criticism to do what he thinks is best for his daughter, instead of being affected by society. On the other hand, the reader learns that Scout and Jem are also occasionally discontent about their father’s age because his old age makes him unable to do what other younger fathers can do, like play football. This minor flaw gives the reader a better idea of the father-children relationship he has with Scout and Jem: instead of being able to relate to them more on a friend-to-friend basis, he acts as a mentor, standing on the sidelines while lecturing his children about what is wrong and why it is wrong in all aspects of life instead to teaching them through demonstration. However, though his children may sometimes be temporarily discontent about his age, it is also his age and wisdom that wins the respect of his children, making his word rule and himself the ultimate role model. Moreover, though his disciplinary techniques may seem cold and distant at times, through minor description of actions, Harper Lee illustrates Atticus’s quiet loving nature. “Atticus and Jem were well ahead of us, and I assumed that Atticus was giving him hell for not going home, but I was wrong. As they passed under a street light, Atticus reached out and massaged Jem’s hair, his one gesture of affection,” (pg. 169) reminding his son, as well as the reader, that Atticus is capable of quietly expressing his fatherly love for his children while still shaping their moral guidelines. This subtle show of affection tells the reader that Atticus is not only strong-willed when it comes to beliefs and understanding, but is also shy though not depriving when it comes to expressing affection. Taking into account Atticus’s two most prominent roles in life, lawyer and father, one can take a step back and see his character as a whole.
Atticus as a whole person is a mixture of his role as a lawyer and as a father, and there are universal aspects of his personality that can be seen in both these roles and define his as an entire character: peace, compassion, justice. Atticus’s peaceful nature is shown mostly through his actions, or rather lack thereof. When Bob Ewell spits on him, “‘I wish Bob Ewell wouldn’t chew tobacco,’ was all Atticus said about it.” (pg. 237) Even when Ewell curses him and threatens to kill him, Atticus remains calm and simply wipes his face. He does not react with anger because he would rather get spat on than lose his temper, providing a good example to his fellow citizens and his children. Along with this peaceful nature, Atticus has compassion for others. Using the same example, the reader can clearly see this compassion because he constantly follows his motto to see things from other people’s perspective. Atticus explains, “Jem, see if you can stand in Bob Ewell’s shoes a minute. I destroyed his last shred of credibility at that trial, if he had any to begin with. The man had to have some kind of comeback, his kind always does. So if spitting in my face and threatening me saved Mayella Ewell one extra beating, that’s something I’d gladly take.” (pg. 238) Atticus not only looks out for the innocent Mayella in such a humiliating situation, but also is selfless and compassionate enough to understand Bob’s difficulties and forgive his rude insults and threats. In contrast to his peaceful and forgiving nature, however, Atticus also holds a firm belief in justice. “Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” Essentially, this sentence summarizes Atticus’s entire view of justice—one can persecute as many people as he or she wants as long as they deserve it, but if they are mockingbirds and do nothing but good for others, it is a sin to harm them. In fact, this is the “only time [Scout] ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something” (pg. 98) which shows just how strongly Atticus believes in this sense of equity and justice, as well as his intense disapproval of unnecessary violence. These three main aspects of Atticus illustrated by Harper Lee’s descriptions of his actions, words, and beliefs develops Atticus’s character into the strong moral backbone of Maycomb, making him an admirable and dependable lawyer, father, and person.
Who is Atticus Finch? What is his purpose in Maycomb? Carefully and thoroughly, Harper Lee illustrates Atticus’s respectable character through describing his actions and words in his roles and a lawyer and a father, building and shaping his character as a whole. His purpose in the community is to be a model for others to follow, a figure for others to look up to, and a conscience that guides those who have strayed from their path. And though he may not be perfect in every way, even his flaws reflect his good nature. In everyone community, there must be an Atticus Finch who stands rigidly for his beliefs of justice and equality yet opens his forgiving arms to show compassion and understanding to others. In a world of discrimination, hostility, and violence, he is the shining example that reminds others to take a baby-step towards doing what’s right to make the world a better place for everyone.