Tonight (or this morning or afternoon, depending on where you are), I want to talk about something which is relatively personal. A character who has influenced me incredibly during times in which I never thought I would return to normalcy. And that character is Atticus Finch.
Atticus Finch is one of the protagonists of Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, which mainly deals with racial discrimination in the American South in the late 1960s. Atticus is a white lawyer and a widower with two young children, Jem and Scout. He controversially defends Tom Robinson, a black man who is accused of raping Mayella Ewell, the daughter of the notorious villain of the novel: Bob Ewell. Although discrimination is the most prominent theme in the novel, Lee also touches upon class, loss of innocence and laws, both written and unwritten, making it one of the most loved and revered books of all time. However, the theme of courage and justice jumped out at me the most, and had the biggest affect.
Throughout the course of Jem and Scout’s lives, Atticus installs a strong sense of morality, justice and courage. It is the silver lining which embroiders itself throughout the horrifying story-line, constant and unwavering in its persistence of getting itself across to the reader. The following quote genuinely grasps the message in a nutshell:
“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.”
When I read that in the book, I began to cry. Not petty, soppy tears which teenage girls cry over trifles; proper tears, hot and heavy with the weight of how meaningful the quote is to me.
I was bullied horribly for the first two and a half years of secondary school and I began to lose all faith in humanity. My courage to stand up for myself had been stamped out on the floor, a cigarette whose light was slowly being extinguished. I had no self-confidence, no will to move on. I was held in an unbelievably murky place, the strong light of confidence from the early stages spluttering into nothingness. I honestly thought that the knife of emotional pain would never stop cutting out the most important pieces of my heart.
Atticus became my saviour.
I would become him, installing in myself his ideals of courage and justice. I would take on his body language, manner of speaking, his way of dealing with terrible situations. He gave me vision, a chance to be the person I looked up to, however unlike him I might have been in reality. His quotes of courage, conscience and other people’s judgement have stayed with me for so long, and there is no doubt in my mind that they will remain an important and significant part of my life until the day I move on from this world. I cannot explain how monumental he is as a character, and therefore I can only finish this post with some of my favourite excerpts from ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
“The one thing that does not abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”
“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 fightin’ with your head for a change.”
In the end all I can express is the following: Atticus Finch, and indeed, Harper Lee: I thank you.