Great Characters: Atticus Finch ("To Kill a Mockingbird")

June 17th, 2011 by
The second post I ever did on this blog is here: A Daily Dialogue post featuring the 1962 movie To Kill a Mockingbird (screenplay by Horton Foote, based on the novel by Harper Lee). Here is that quote:
“If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. 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.”
Those are the words of Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck), one of the most well-known and treasured roles in the history of American cinema. Atticus is not the Protagonist in the story. That honor goes to his young daughter Scout, played by Mary Badham (the younger sister of director John Badham). Scout goes on a journey of discovery from innocence to experience, and learns much about life, most of it from her father. As such, he is Scout’s Mentor figure in the movie.
Here is one small example of how Atticus displays wisdom, both in the knowledge he imparts and how he handles circumstances life puts in his way:
Atticus: Do you know what a compromise is?
Scout: Bendin’ the law?
Atticus: [slightly bemused] Uh, no. It’s an agreement reached by mutual consent. Now, here’s the way it works. You concede the necessity of goin’ to school, we’ll keep right on readin’ the same every night, just as we always have. Is that a bargain?
The central narrative element in the story is where Atticus not only says, but shows what’s right is his legal defense of Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), an African-American accused of raping a white woman.  In his questioning of the victim and her father, Atticus virtually proves that the charges against Robinson are false. But this is a Southern community in a time when racism was institutionalized. Here is Finch’s powerful summary argument in defense of his client:
Who can forget the pained look on Atticus’ face when the verdict is announced: “Guilty”? Or Atticus sitting guard outside the jail, protecting Robinson from a lynch mob? We know Atticus is capable of handling a rifle because he shot a rabid dog earlier in the story.
I think that one of the characters in the movie Maudie says it best about Finch in talking to Scout after the jury’s decision: “There are some men in this world who are born to do our unpleasant jobs for us. Your father’s one of them.”
Entertainment Weekly in an article called 20 All-Time Coolest Heroes in Pop Culture says “[Finch] transforms quiet decency, legal acumen, and great parenting into the most heroic qualities a man can have.”
This week in Daily Dialogue, we’ve been featuring lawyers. I can think of no better cinematic character in that profession than Atticus Finch: A truly great character.

What are your thoughts about Atticus Finch and To Kill a Mockingbird?

[Originally posted 9/24/2010]

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5 thoughts on “Great Characters: Atticus Finch ("To Kill a Mockingbird")

  1. mooderino says:

    Imagine how much more people would hate lawyers if it wasn't for Atticus…

  2. Phil says:

    Great name, great acting, great story, great movie. Always a joy to watch.

    Thanks Scott.

    "Stand up child. Your daddy's passing by."

  3. John says:

    Pretty damn fine example regarding Father's Day this Sunday, too! Fine choice, Scott. Thanks!

  4. Adam Rabasca says:

    All this, and perhaps the greatest cinematic moment of all time, as he leaves the courtroom in defeat and, but for sound of the orchestra's score, in silence…

  5. Nathalie says:

    I remember the first time I watched To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus' character was so strong and moving; I couldn't help but wish that I had a dad like that. Not only that but this movie showed me how strongly movies can affect someone.

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