‘Atticus Finch’.We have all,at least once in our lives,come across that name.For my part,I first encountered it whilst reading Mark Gimenez’s ‘The Colour of Law’,a legal thriller whose protagonist does his utmost to emulate the goodness of a certain ‘Atticus Finch’.At that time,I ignored that the latter was one of literature’s most unforgettable characters,just like I ignored that he belonged to one of the greatest novels ever written:‘To Kill A Mockingbird’.Sadly,it was not until I turned 19 that I decided to pick up this book to finally find out why people spoke so fondly of ‘Atticus Finch’.
Strikingly,Scout and Jem never call their father ”Dad” or ”Father” but,instead,refer to him by his name ‘Atticus’.Far from being disrespectful,the children,in doing so,show the peculiar proximity they share with their father whom they regard as their best friend.In fact,Atticus exemplifies that the best way of bringing up kids is by being their confidant and tutor at the same time.Such pedagogical approach towards his children is perhaps what I like best in Atticus,especially after witnessing so many parents trying to discipline their kids by threatening them,beating them or inducing fear in them.
Being only a nine-year-old girl,Scout often commits the same mistakes as us when we were still kids.She is impetuous and as a result,often confronts those who provoke her.Walter Cunningham,for example,paid the price for calling Atticus a ‘nigger-lover’ ;Scout buried his head in the sand and bruised his nose.Moreover,Scout is still an innocent girl who is oblivious of numerous subjects and who,consequently,shapes her mind in regard to what the mass deems right:at one point in the story,she regards Mr Dolphus Raymond as ‘an evil man’ because he has ‘mixed children’.Fortunately,she can always count on Atticus to bestow all his knowledge and his wisdom on her.Every evening,he finds time to answer all the queries of his daughter and to explain to her why certain things shouldn’t be done.For instance,he tells her it was wrong to beat Walter,for people are ”certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions”.He even makes a pact with Scout,promising to teach her if she agrees not to beat anybody in the future.Likewise,he doesn’t lose his temper when she asks him what a rape is: in his gentle tone,Atticus tells her that it is ‘carnal knowledge of a female by force and without consent.’Of course there are other numerous examples that demonstrate how he enlightens his children,but my point is that Atticus Finch’s pedagogical way of bringing up a child is devoid of fear,threats,shrouded truths and violence.Another interesting fact about this pedagogy of his is that while sermonizing Jem and Scout,Atticus is lecturing us as well.How I wish I had read this book before!I wouldn’t have quarrelled with those who provoked me during my school days! I’m sure that Atticus’s words would have prevented me from being a stupid boy,which,in the hindsight,I was.Also, if ever I have children one day,I’ll try my best to be as good a father as Atticus!
All too often people mistake courtesy for respect,when in fact,the former is only a part of the latter.I opine that they should read ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ ,for there is no better character than Atticus to help them understand what respect is all about.What struck me the most in the book is how Atticus places respect above everything else.Indeed,even when faced with people’s malice and wickedness,Atticus stays calm and never retorts ,simply because he respects other people’s points of view,an attitude which few would have adopted had they been in his place.Although Mr Cunningham threatens to beat Atticus as a result of his defending a ‘Nigger’,Atticus doesn’t harbour any grudge against Mr Cunningham,on the account that ”Mr Cunningham’s basically a good man…he just has his blind spots along with the rest of us.” Likewise,Atticus remains calm when Bob Ewell spits in his face,a stoicism which Jem is quick to question but which Atticus is equally quick to explain:”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’ll gladly take.He had to take it out on somebody and I’d rather it be me than that houseful of children out there.You understand?” Additionally,his final quote,which is also the book’s powerful message,sums up in one line all we need to know about respect: ”Most people are (nice),Scout,when you finally know them.” In short,Atticus taught me that respecting someone’s opinion is the best way to understand him/her,as it requires us to put ourselves in his/her shoes.In this regard,as Atticus may have hinted before,by choosing to respect someone,we choose to see who that person really is,and very often,that person tends to be a very nice one.
Furthermore, Atticus’s unbelievable coolness is somewhat ‘contagious’,for throughout the book,we witness that he always fares better than hot-tempered individuals.At court,for example,compared to Mr Gilmer who relies on his aggressive tone to intimidate and extract what he wants to hear from the accused,Atticus stays calm,uses his logic and asks the accused tricky-yet determining-questions,thereby bringing the jury to a clear conclusion.In addition,we have all,once, been told by our elders to disregard those who call us names,because they are worth less than us;however,despite these words,we cannot help but pay attention to those gibes that contribute to our insecurity.Nevertheless, Atticus’ words are different and do help Jem and Scout to ignore the remarks made about their father.But why do Atticus’s words have a different effect? I opine that once again,his pedagogical approach makes the difference.Indeed,as opposed to our well-intentioned elders, Atticus takes time to explain why people who call us names are not worth the time: ”it’s never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name.It just shows you how poor that person is,it doesn’t hurt you.” If Atticus has been able to stay calm despite being called horrible names,I think I’ll manage to shun remarks,far less horrendous,aimed at me.
My reading of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ easily helped me understand why the book was ranked ahead of the Bible as one “every adult should read before he dies”.The book is not only a wonderful and unforgettable journey,but also an incredible lesson about life. Atticus Finch is a paragon of virtues,and thus,doesn’t leave anybody insensitive: he shows us our mistakes and teaches us how life ought to be lived.Meet him once,and your life won’t ever be the same any more!