In the 1960 novel To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee, Atticus Finch is a lawyer and resident of the fictional county in Alabama called Maycomb. The character is based off of Lee’s own father, Amasa Coleman Lee, who was also an Alabama lawyer who represented black defendants like Atticus Finch.
In the legal world, the character’s impact can be seen in many ways. Scholar Alice Petry remarked that “Atticus has become something of a folk hero in legal circles and is treated almost as if he were an actual person.” A law professor at the University of Notre Dame once stated that the most significant and influential textbook he taught from was To Kill a Mockingbird. When asked to describe Atticus Finch, many lawyers regard him as an ideal lawyer. Words and phrases like “integrity”, “professionalism”, “representing the poor and oppressed” and “making a difference” come about most often. He represented justice and equal standing under the law for everyone, which is what the American justice system aims to establish. A famous quote from the book is when Atticus explains why the representation of Tom Robinson is controversial to his daughter.
“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.” (Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 1960. 149.)
This quote represents Finch’s firm belief in standing up for what is just regardless of popular beliefs or winning a case, which is what many people in the legal profession believe as well. The image of Atticus Finch as a hero is understandable in this sense.
Others do not believe that Atticus Finch should be regarded as a hero. Monroe Freedman, a legal ethics expert, had published two articles stating to set aside Atticus as a legal role model. He argued that Finch was still working in a system that institutionalized racism and sexism, and should not be someone to look up to. Other critics claim Atticus Finch to be morally ambiguous and does not use his legal skills to challenge racism in 1936 Alabama.
The character of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird has had a lasting impact on the legal world and society, and still remains a relevant figure for today’s justice system. The recognition and humanization of a fictional character has made him a significant figure in American history, and his actions are still taught in schools today. The personification and courage of Atticus Finch in the novel will continue to transcend and influence people throughout time.