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06/03/2010

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I hope you can be persuaded to join the bandwagon. I read "To Kill a Mockingbird" about thirty years ago and am going to reread it because of this post. I can't say if Harper Lee necessarily intended for Atticus Finch to be a grandly heroic or immortal figure. I think he was meant to be inspirational (and has indeed been to many aspiring lawyers) because he was "everyman" and chose to act just in an unjust society. The fact that he didn't volunteer was, I think, the point: he was reluctantly cast into a situation but rose to the occasion. And people who do that are sometimes our icons.

Atticus Finch is a tragic hero, a man of his time and place, who tries to be honest, honorable, and true to his ideals in a society dominated by a violent and unprincipled system of social control. He is not a rebel or a revolutionary. Being essentially good himself, he believes in the essential goodness of the society in which he was raised, and, with some individual exceptions, of the people who populate it. His tragedy is part of the tragedy of the New South. Like all too many well-meaning people of his day (and of any day), Finch can't see the fundamental character of the system: he attributes its violence and injustices to the misconduct and personal shortcomings of individuals; and he believes that by being good and honorable, individuals can set things right. It's heart-rending to see him, truly in anguish at the news of Tom Robinson's death, and truly unable to see, as every reader can, that Robinson has been murdered.

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