The Influence of Atticus Finch | Teen Ink

The Influence of Atticus Finch

January 6, 2022
By winter275 SILVER, Seoul, Other
winter275 SILVER, Seoul, Other
7 articles 2 photos 0 comments

Atticus Finch is the narrator’s lawyer father in To Kill a Mockingbird.

In defending an innocent man in court–an innocent black man–Finch’s character elucidates a handful of timeless morals in the context of an approachable coming-of-age story. And given the time in our lives that we read this book, Atticus Finch is the immortal embodiment of justice.

Readers most associate Finch with his statement that “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.” It sounds a lot like the Golden Rule, and the same principle shows up elsewhere in literature, too. For instance, the narrator of The Great Gatsby says, "In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, he told me, just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had." Literature is not the only place that we see this proverb, however: it’s an idea we start learning from grade school, just like anti-racism.

Nowadays, we all learn in school that racism is bad and to treat others like we'd want to be treated. Yet most young people lack context for what this all actually means. To Kill a Mockingbird is standard reading for teens, and so it provides that context. Because the book is read by young people who are facing these issues for the first time, in a serious way at least, Atticus Finch ends up directly feeding their still-forming beliefs about them.

Furthermore, Atticus Finch is known for having an admirably tranquil persona. He is just as much a role model for personality as he is for character. Scout, the narrator and Finch’s daughter, initially thought that he was lame despite his universal respect within his community, and only later was she able to recognize his true greatness. In this sense, Scout is like many teenagers in the real world.

Is Atticus Finch perfect? No. Nor should we expect him to be. He said a lynch mob leader was "basically a good man," and there are arguments that this doesn't square with conventional values. But these kinds of flaws make his humanity richer, and if anything, add to his influence. The more ethically complex he gets, the more relatable he becomes and the more there is to talk about. Plus, a faultless moral angel is artificial. What influence does a common, one-dimensional fictional character have?

Finch’s principles are not original. They are ancient. But Harper Lee wove them into his character so as to create an embodiment of righteousness that is now an icon for civic consciousness in the literary tradition.




D. Margolick, “At the Bar; To Attack A Lawyer In 'To Kill a Mockingbird': An Iconoclast Takes Aim At A Hero”, New York Times.

F. Fitzgerald. The Great Gatsby. Scribner’s, New York City, 1925.

H. Lee. To Kill A Mockingbird, J. B. Lippincott & Co., Philadelphia, 1960.

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