Atticus confesses that he sometimes thinks of himself as a "complete failure" as a parent

Atticus Finch is nearly fifty years of age and is a well-known and established lawyer in Maycomb County. Atticus has two children named Jeremy Finch and Jean Louise Finch, better known as Jem and Scout. Atticus is an only parent as Jem and Scouts’ mother died when Scout was two from a sudden heart attack and Scout therefore expresses in the book that she never really ‘felt her absence’.

My personal view is that Harper Lee intentionally creates Atticus as having to raise both Jem and Scout by himself as he has much more responsibility as a father to fulfill all the parental duties on his own and this may give Atticus a reason to doubt himself as he does at certain points in the novel.

Different characters and different incidents throughout the novel portray varied views, thoughts and ideas to the reader about Atticus as a parent, some bad, some good but each tell us a substantial amount about this character as a whole.

An example may be chapter one when Scout expresses her own and her brothers’ views about Atticus as father, ‘Jem and I found our father satisfactory: he played with us, read to us, and treated us with courteous detachment. ‘ The reader can learn a lot from individual character opinions about Atticus such as the one above, however it is my belief that we as readers learn much more from the way in which Atticus handles situations which arise throughout the book and very much by the way in which he deals and explains these incidents to his children.

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There are countless incidents in the novel which demonstrate to the reader just how good Atticus really is as a father and I feel that one of the writers main intentions was to make us as readers recognise Atticus’ ability to relate to his children with such understanding and honesty. Our first example of this is in chapter two when Scout learns one of her very first lessons from Atticus. Scouts’ first day at school does not prove to be a very successful one and Atticus soon realises that something is wrong.

Having explained to Atticus about the days ‘misfortunes’ Atticus tries to make Scout see the day at school from Miss Caroline’s point of view. Scout learns a lesson from Atticus as he explains, ‘if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along better with all kinds of folks. 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’.

The need to look at circumstances from the other person’s point of view is a strong theme in the book. It is the chief lesson Atticus teaches his children and reflects upon Atticus’ main philosophy of life and these are the main reasons as to why Harper Lee includes this incident at this very early stage in the novel. Atticus then goes on to explain the meaning of compromise to Scout and the two of them agree that if Scout continues going to school, they could continue reading every night.

Atticus talks to Scout intelligently and this is shown when he describes compromise to her as ‘an agreement reached by mutual concessions’, which most would regard as quite a complex definition unusually used when explaining to a child and especially one of her age. In chapter four, we begin to see Atticus’ fairness as a father. Even though he suspects that the children’s’ game is to do with the Radleys, because they deny it and he has no proof, he lets it go – I believe that this behavior may be more representative of a lawyer than most parents.

I certainly feel that the quality of fairness in Atticus is intentionally shown by the writer to the reader in this incident as this same quality is shown again in later stages of the book, however under more extreme and important circumstances. Atticus does eventually find out about the children’s games regarding the Radleys in chapter five and is disappointed in the children. Nevertheless, Atticus explains to the children that ‘what Mr Radley [does] is his own business’ and goes on to teach the children valuable lessons of acceptance and tolerance.

Again he asks the children to think in the other persons point of view asking the children how they would like it if ‘he barged in on [them] without knocking, when [they] were in their rooms at night. ‘ Atticus does not only tell the children to stop doing it but also gives them reasons as to why it was wrong and also speaks to the children in an intelligent manner, in this particular incident but also generally throughout the book. This contrasts very much to the way that other adults treat the children, which are portrayed later on in the novel.

Another quality of Atticus’, which is reinforced throughout the book, is Atticus’ ability to always remain truthful and honest even in the most difficult circumstances. This is shown very well in chapter twenty three, when Atticus explains to his children the realities of the world they live in. he tells them honestly and truthfully that ‘in our courts, when it is a white man’s word against a black man’s word, the white man always wins. ‘ Atticus’ words to Jem about the trial are strong, his outrage is revealed. It is difficult for Atticus to explain the societies prejudice to the children, however Atticus does so remaining truthful.

Yet another example of Atticus’ brilliance in explaining situations and incidents to his children is shown in chapter nine. Chapter nine begins with Scout ready to fight a boy named Cecil Jacobs as he had ‘announced in the schoolyard the day before that Scout Finch’s daddy defended niggers. ‘ Scout does not understand the full meaning of what Cecil has said and turns on Atticus yet again to explain. Scout questions her father as to why he was defending Tom if he shouldn’t be defended – the opinion of most of Maycomb.

Atticus says he is doing it ‘for a number of reasons’ and that ‘the main one is, if [he] didn’t [he] couldn’t hold his head up in town, [he couldn’t represent this county in the legislature, [he] couldn’t even tell [Scout] or Jem not to do something again. In my opinion, the case of Tom Robinson is a matter of honour for Atticus. He knows he cannot win, but he must take it on or lose his self-respect, the respect of his children and the respect of those townsfolk whose opinions he values. When Scout asks Atticus if they were going to win the case, Atticus replies no as he knows exactly what the status of the Negro is in the south.

Even in court they are not equal and this is why Atticus is so sure of failure. Atticus tries to explain all this to Scout and is rather successful in doing so as the next day, Scout ‘remembered what Atticus had said, then dropped [her] fists and walked away. ‘ We are told that this was the first time that Scout had ever walked away from a fight and this is very important as it shows the extent of understanding and respect Scout has for Atticus and also shows just how well Atticus explained the complicated situation to Scout the night before. Scout is beginning to remember to be reasonable and this is a definite sign of her growing up.

Scouts tolerance can only last a day or two however as towards the end of chapter nine, Scout gets into another fight when they go to Finch’s Landing for Christmas with a boy named Francis when he accuses Atticus of ‘letting [them] run around with stray dogs’ and also of being a ‘nigger-lover’. This is a very significant incident in the novel and the writers intention was to enable Scout to express her opinion of Atticus as she does on p92 when she tells uncle Jack that ‘[he] aint fair. ‘ She explains to him that ‘when Jem and [her] fuss Atticus doesn’t ever just listen to Jem’s side of it, he hear’s [her] side too. The way in which Atticus handles the children contrasts very much with the way in which Uncle Jack handles them in this incident and really emphasises and highlights to the reader Atticus’ fairness as a father, which the writer also demonstrated earlier in the novel. There is also a certain sense of humor and irony that comes from the way Scout seems to be telling her Uncle off. Scout asks her Uncle what a whore-lady is and being put in this uncomfortable position, Jack completely avoids the question by ‘plunging into a long tale about an old Prime Minister. Again, we as readers are able to compare the way in which Uncle Jack handles this sort of situation to the way in which Atticus does and I think that this is one of the writer’s main intentions. Atticus is given a chance to express both to the reader and to Uncle Jack about the way he feels adults should handle situations such as this and the reader realises the major differences between Atticus and the majority of other parents who would have probably acted as Uncle Jack had done.

Atticus seems to understand and relate to children much better as he explains to Uncle Jack that ‘children are children but they can spot an evasion quicker than adults, and an evasion quickly muddles’em’ We really begin to like and admire Atticus when we find out that Atticus has never ‘laid a hand on [Scout]’ and Atticus also explains that Scout tries her best and that is all that matters. In chapter ten, we find out about Atticus’ dislike and uninterest in guns and rifles and he reminds Jem ‘that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird’, an important lesson which Atticus knows will be needed later.

Chapter ten also gives us Miss Maudie’s opinion of Atticus as the children complain to her about Atticus’ old age. Miss Maudie tell them ‘he’s the best chequer-player in his town’ and that ‘he can play a Jew’s harp. ‘ The fact that the children find all of these things extremely boring and are rather ashamed of their father at this point is in my opinion Harper Lee’s intention. I believe it is her intention because when the children find out about their father being ‘the deadest shot in Maycomb County in his time’ this comes as much, much more of a shock to both the reader and the children.

Scout and Jem learn something new about their father and their respect for him increases. It is a most crucial time for Atticus to have gained the children’s respect – just before the trial days begin. During chapter eleven, Atticus is able to teach both Jem and Scout yet another very important and valuable lesson. Jem loses his temper with the outspoken, cantankerous old neighbor, Mrs. Dubose. In retaliation for the names she calls Atticus, Jem knocks off the heads of her camellias. Atticus is angry at Jem’s behavior and as a punishment Jem has to read to her everyday for a month.

This gives the writer another chance to allow Atticus to teach the children another valuable lesson of allowing people to be entitled to their own opinions using the example of Mrs Dubose. The children also learn an important lesson of courage and by the time of her death, they realise it is wrong to judge others too quickly or too superficially. The reason as to why Harper Lee introduces the character of Aunt Alexandra into the novel is illustrated very well in chapter fourteen. Her views contrast very much to those of Atticus and as readers we are able to see the differences in the way Aunt Alex treats the children to the way Atticus does.

An example of this is shown in chapter fourteen when Aunt Alex wants to get rid of Calpurnia. Atticus refuses however, as he has high regards for the cook and the arrival of his sister does not change that. We see how Aunt Alex always thinks of her narrow-minded prejudices before thinking of the children. This incident also shows us how quick Aunt Alexandra is to impose her own views on her brother’s household. This demonstrates the extent of her own prejudice and intolerance contrasting to Atticus’ fair, understanding, honest opinions and views.

Although Atticus has a huge amount of ‘good points’ as a father which are portrayed throughout the novel by individual characters or by the way in which Atticus handles certain situations, Atticus has a number of ‘bad points’ also revealed at times in the book. Some may believe that these bad points show that Atticus is in fact a bad parent, however my belief is that the writer intentionally included many of these points to reinforce the fact that Atticus, as heroic as he may seem is in fact only human and can therefore make mistakes also.

Many of Atticus’ bad points are reflected upon at certain points in the book. A good example of this is in the beginning of chapter ten. I quote, ‘Atticus was feeble: he was nearly fifty. He was much older than the parents of our school contemporaries’ Scout also expresses to the reader Jem’s love for football and how ‘Atticus was never to tired to play keep-away, but when Jem wanted to tackle him Atticus would say, “I’m too old for that, son. Scout then continues by talking about Atticus’ job and how Atticus did not ‘do anything that could possibly arouse the admiration of anyone. At this early stage in the book, it is typical of Scout to make this sort of judgement about Atticus, however we can certainly see that as she evolves and grows up throughout the course of the novel, her attitude also changes from that of the above to one of much more respect and admiration for her father.

I think that one of the writer’s main intentions here was for Scout to grow up through the book and learn more about Atticus as a person and also more about his character, opinions and views which she comes to recognise and admire by the end of the book. As Scout does so, we as readers also learn more about Atticus and this is one of the important ways in which we do so. Chapter thirteen shows us that Atticus in a sense may not be as brave as we have seen in other points in the novel.

Atticus is a lawyer as we know and he is ineffective at putting his heart into saying something that he does not believe in. We can tell this by the way Atticus says ‘your Aunt has asked me to’ implying that he himself does not actually believe in what he is saying and the children realise this very quickly. I think that when we as readers read this particular part of the book, we wonder why Atticus doesn’t stand up to her sister instead of doing as she says unwillingly. This may be a weakness of Atticus’ which can be seen also at other times in the novel.

There are three main instances throughout the course of the book in which Atticus appears to be very wrong in his views and opinions which, for a character like Atticus who plays such an heroic role in this book and to the reader is extremely rare. The first instance which Atticus is proven to be very wrong about is during chapter three when the children hear about Bob Ewell’s threaten ‘to get [Atticus] if it took [him] the rest of his life. Atticus tells Jem and Scout, ‘we don’t have anything to fear from Bob Ewell, he got it all out of his system that morning.

As readers, I feel that we do trust Atticus’ judgements very much as he so rarely makes any mistakes, however it seems here that Atticus almost has too much faith in mankind and Bob Ewell does in fact gain his revenge. The second instance is also in chapter twenty three when we learn from Scout that ‘Atticus assured [them] that nothing would happen to Tom Robin son until the higher court reviewed his case, and that Tom had a good chance of going free. ‘ Again, the readers are lulled into a false sense of security, putting full faith in Atticus and his judgement.

We do find out however, in chapter 24 that in fact Tom himself had no faith in Atticus and did not believe that he would be released and this may be what caused him to try and runaway which subsequently lead to his death. The last instance in which Atticus proves again to be very wrong in his beliefs is during chapter fifteenwhen he explains to Jem and Scout that ‘we don’t have mobs and that nonsense in Maycomb. ‘ We soon find out later in the very same chapter that in reality, Maycomb does have mobs and Atticus’ idealism backfires at him during this particular scene.

It seems, knowing the above, that the author has included imperfections in the character of Atticus, idealism and having too much faith in mankind, some examples. My personal belief is that by including such examples of imperfections in Atticus’ character, makes him seem much more human like and more believable for the reader, rather than a faultless hero which we know is humanly impossible. I would like to briefly conclude this essay by saying that overall, I strongly do not agree with Atticus’ view that he is a ‘complete failure’ as a father.

My reasons for believing so are as stated earlier in this essay however I also believe that by simply making a few honest and unintentional mistakes, most of which I have stated above, does not make him any less of a good father. On the contrary, I strongly believe that the author intentionally illustrates imperfections in his character to make the readers recognise both Atticus’ strengths and weaknesses and realise that ultimately, nobody is perfect.

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Atticus confesses that he sometimes thinks of himself as a "complete failure" as a parent. (2017, Nov 01). Retrieved from

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