Famous Atticus Finch Quotes

Atticus Finch is one of the main characters from “To Kill a Mockingbird”. He is a lawyer living in a small town and a single father doing his best in raising his two kids – Jem and Scout. Atticus is as close to the perfect parent as we can only imagine. He is always attentive to his kids, ready to answer their questions, empathic and eager to explain them his own moral code. Let’s see how the main aesop of the story is provided through famous Atticus Finch quotes.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” – Chapter 3

This is one of the main life lessons given to us (and to the children) in the story. Atticus emphasizes that judgement of others is always flawed until one tries to think about the things making that others behave that way. As a lawyer, Atticus surely knows well what is judging a person – but we see him faithful to this principle to the end, even when almost all the town was against him. Defending Tom Robinson, Atticus is determined to find the truth.

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From Tom’s point of view the story of disgracing Ewell’s daughter looks ridiculous, but the locals do not bother to put themselves in Tom’s shoes, looking at the case from the side of respected white people who treat blacks as inferior ones. This quote is also the main life lessons Scout has to learn in the end. Her encounter with Boo Radley showed her that he wasn’t a monster all the kids thought about him.

Actually, seeing the situation from Radley’s perspective gives Scout some good reasons to stay inside and never communicate with people: learning Radley’s story she decides that he just doesn’t want to come out, though he can. From the hothead who is engaging into a fight for a slightest reason, Scout turns into a compassionate girl who, despite being strong enough to solve problems by force, tries to understand the other side first.

“When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness’ sake. But don’t make a production of it. Children are children, but they can spot an evasion quicker than adults, and evasion simply muddles ’em.” – Chapter 9

This idea is extremely useful even for the modern parents. Atticus’ reflections have a point: throughout the story we see that Jem and Scout clearly see when adults don’t take them seriously. Their respect to Atticus is based on his attitude: he treats them with equal respect, never lying to them to look smart in their eyes or just ignoring them because they are too young and it is boring to answer their question.

Atticus understands well, that the simple things children ask can be boring for the adults, but for them they are serious problems that can define their attitude to the major aspects of life later. That’s why, despite being tired of his work, complicated case and parenting, Atticus does his best to answer every question precisely and honestly – he also isn’t embarrassed to say that he doesn’t know something.

Parenting is not about maintaining the image of the omniscient adult, it is about growing and developing together, being direct and honest and respecting each other.

“You might hear some ugly talk about it at school, but do one thing for me if you will: you just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don’t you let ’em get your goat. Try fighting with your head for a change.” – Chapter 9

This advice given to Scout perfectly illustrates the previous two points too. Scout is misbehaving, she started a fight at her first day at school and is completely fine with beating her opponents to prove she is right. Instead of punishing her and blatantly forbidding Scout to fight, forcefully turning her into the girly girl Louise, Atticus has a serious talk to her.

He says that he understands her point. It’s hard to bear being trash-talking and not shut the offender up with a good hit. Then Atticus uses his sheer authority he earned so hard and just asks Scout not to fight for him. The girl is so impressed – her father rarely asks her directly to do something for him – that she decides to try, though she doesn’t see much sense in it yet.

Later we see that Scout is so devoted to her father that she is fine with being called a coward for evading the fight – she knows that her father will be proud of her and this fact is much more valuable for her. Gradually, Scout starts to use her head instead of her fists and makes great progress in it.

The pinnacle of showing her skills was talking to the lynch mob and shaming them all at once. Scout is still prone to fight (and she decides to fight tooth and nail any offender who isn’t her relative or someone close to her), but due to Atticus’ words she learns to use some diplomacy too.

“Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” – Chapter 10

The quote that explains the title of the book and foreshadows some events in its end now is about the actual mockingbird. Atticus warns Jem that to kill a mockingbird is a sin not because of religious superstitions, but trying to tell him that the mockingbird – the symbol of innocence – doesn’t do any harm to the people, but sings beautifully for their amusement. There is no reason of killing it and it is the senseless act of cruelty.

Later in the story we see metaphorical human “mockingbirds” – defending Tom Robinson failed and he was killed by the people though being perfectly innocent. Later, when Atticus proved Ewell guilty, he tried to kill the children of the lawyer, almost committing the sin of killing the innocent and harmless beings.

Luckily, Arthur Radley manages to save them and kill Ewell in self-defence. Later, when his case is being investigated, even the judge and the sheriff decide that poor Arthur is too much of a mockingbird to ruin his life. There is no sin on him, he defended his only two friends and had no malicious intentions.

“They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions… but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” – Chapter 11

This quote explains Atticus’ decision to go to the very end with defending Tom Robinson. He knows that all the town is sure Tom is guilty, because he is black and his potential victim looks pretty distressed. But Atticus knows that there is something wrong with the case. Moreover, he knows Tom and is sure that he is unable to commit such a horrible deed as raping a woman.

It would be much easier to step back and let the townsfolk lynch him, but Atticus knows that he has his own moral code and conscience and he’d have to live with the consequences of such a deed for all his life. That’s what he is trying to explain to his children: inner moral compass is much more important than the opinion of the others, because it’s the thing one got to live with for the rest of their days. As a lawyer, Atticus knows and respects the majority rule, but now he has to go against it, against almost everyone, risking his reputation to do what he feels is right.

“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 see it through no matter what.” – Chapter 11

This talk of Atticus and Jem is dedicated to the theme of real courage. This is another kind of life lessons for another person: Scout is still a six-year-old girl, but Jem is almost a young adult with all the social expectations burdening him and prejudices about manly qualities such as courage. Atticus explains that the real courage isn’t dependent on some external symbols like guns or able body: it goes from the inside, from the decision to do something even knowing that you’d most probably lose.

As an example of courage Atticus takes the most unexpected person – their grumpy and sharp-tongued neighbor lady who has died recently. Jem is puzzled: she seemingly has nothing to do with courage, but his father calls her one of the bravest people he knew. It turns out that she was dying of a terminal disease causing her intense pain – that’s why her temper was so bad. She had to take morphine to ease the pain and got addicted to it.

But when she understood that the end was inevitable, she abandoned her painkillers to die as a woman free of addiction. This act of real courage didn’t demand a gun or a strong body – her mind and determination were enough.

Work cited:

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; 23rd 2006 by Harper Perennial Modern Classics (first published July 11th 1960)