Atticus Finch

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Atticus Finch
Gregory Peck Atticus Publicity Photo.jpg
First appearanceTo Kill a Mockingbird
Last appearanceGo Set a Watchman
Created byHarper Lee
Portrayed byGregory Peck (1962)
Jeff Daniels (2018–19, 2021)
Ed Harris (2019–20)
Greg Kinnear (2020)
Rhys Ifans (2020)
Richard Thomas (2020)
In-universe information
OccupationLawyer, Member of the Alabama Legislature
FamilyJohn Hale "Jack" Finch (brother)
Alexandra Finch Hancock (sister)
Caroline Finch (sister)
SpouseJean Graham Finch (deceased)
ChildrenJeremy Atticus "Jem" Finch
Jean Louise "Scout" Finch
RelativesHenry Hancock (nephew)
Francis Hancock (great-nephew)
Edgar (cousin)
Joshua (cousin)

Atticus Finch is a fictional character in Harper Lee's Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel of 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird. A preliminary version of the character also appears in the novel Go Set a Watchman, written in the mid-1950s but not published until 2015. Atticus is a lawyer and resident of the fictional Maycomb County, Alabama, and the father of Jeremy "Jem" Finch and Jean Louise "Scout" Finch. He represents the African-American man Tom Robinson in his trial where he is charged with rape of Mayella Ewell. Lee based the character on her own father, Amasa Coleman Lee, an Alabama lawyer, who, like Atticus, represented black defendants in a highly publicized criminal trial.[1] Book magazine's list of The 100 Best Characters in Fiction Since 1900 names Finch as the seventh best fictional character of 20th-century literature.[2][3] In 2003, the American Film Institute voted Atticus Finch, as portrayed in an Academy Award-winning performance by Gregory Peck in the 1962 film adaptation, as the greatest hero of all American cinema.[4] In the 2018 Broadway stage play adapted by Aaron Sorkin, Finch has been portrayed by various actors including Jeff Daniels, Ed Harris, Greg Kinnear, Rhys Ifans, and Richard Thomas.

Effect on the legal profession[edit]

Claudia Durst Johnson has commented about critiques of the novel, saying, "A greater volume of critical readings has been amassed by two legal scholars in law journals than by all the literary scholars in literary journals".[5] Alice Petry remarked, "Atticus has become something of a folk hero in legal circles and is treated almost as if he were an actual person".[6] Examples of Atticus Finch's impact on the legal profession are plentiful. Richard Paul Matsch, the federal judge who presided over the Timothy McVeigh trial, counts Atticus as a major judicial influence.[7] One law professor at the University of Notre Dame stated that the most influential textbook from which he taught was To Kill a Mockingbird, and an article in the Michigan Law Review asserts, "No real-life lawyer has done more for the self-image or public perception of the legal profession", before questioning whether "Atticus Finch is a paragon of honor or an especially slick hired gun."[8]

In 1992, Monroe H. Freedman, a professor of law and noted legal ethicist, published two articles in the national legal newspaper Legal Times calling for the legal profession to set aside Atticus Finch as a role model.[9] Freedman argued that Atticus still worked within a system of institutionalized racism and sexism and should not be revered. Freedman's article sparked a flurry of responses from attorneys who entered the profession holding Atticus Finch as a hero and the reason for which they became lawyers.[10] Freedman argued that Atticus Finch is dishonest, unethical, sexist, and inherently racist, and that he did nothing to challenge the racist status quo in Maycomb.[11] Freedman's article sparked furious controversy, with one legal scholar opining, "What Monroe really wants is for Atticus to be working on the front lines for the NAACP in the 1930s, and, if he's not, he's disqualified from being any kind of hero; Monroe has this vision of lawyer as prophet. Atticus has a vision of lawyer not only as prophet, but as parish priest".[9]

In 1997, the Alabama State Bar erected a monument dedicated to Atticus in Monroeville marking his existence as the "first commemorative milestone in the state's judicial history".[12]

Social references[edit]

Atticus Finch's willingness to support social outcasts and victims of prejudice is the eponymous inspiration for the name of the Atticus Circle, which is an organization composed of "straight allies" (that is, heterosexual people supportive of the LGBT rights movement).[13]

In 2016, the lawyer Joseph Madison Beck published the memoir My Father & Atticus Finch,[14] in which he noted the numerous parallels between his father Foster Beck's defense of a black man accused of raping a white woman in the 1938 trial State of Alabama vs. Charles White, Alias, and Atticus Finch's defense of Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird.[15] In a letter to the author, Harper Lee herself noted the "obvious parallels" between the cases (Lee was 12 at the time of the Charles White trial) and between Atticus Finch and Foster Beck, though she also stated that she could not recall the trial, and that To Kill a Mockingbird was a work of fiction.[16]

Former President Barack Obama referenced Atticus Finch as an ideal American character, and mentioned him during his farewell address to the nation on January 11, 2017.[17]

Go Set a Watchman[edit]

In July 2015, days before Lee's highly anticipated second novel, Go Set a Watchman, was officially published, the first chapter was released on The Guardian for public viewing. On that day, a New York Times review of the book (which is set about twenty years after the time period depicted in Mockingbird but is not a chronological sequel)[18] revealed that Atticus, depicted in this version as being in his early seventies, is portrayed as a far less progressive character. He makes comments that favor segregation and has attended a Citizens' Council meeting. This has proved controversial to many readers, unaware perhaps that although To Kill a Mockingbird was published first, Watchman is the first draft of the text that later became Mockingbird and the characterizations and key plot details between the two books are not only different but sometimes contradictory.[19]

In terms of plot, Tom Robinson is acquitted in Watchman while in Mockingbird his unjust conviction as the result of prejudice was a central part of not only the story but why Atticus is seen culturally as such a righteous and progressive character. His defense is based on not just Robinson's innocence but on his fundamental equality. His closing argument is a more polished version of the progressive argument the adult Jean Louise makes in Watchman and there are other instances where both versions contain the same descriptions word for word.[18] This kind of character development, where motivations and ideals between characters, for reasons of plot, are changed is not unusual in the process of creative writing. Apart from the more progressive depiction of Atticus, the depiction of the town itself, especially the African-American characters, is also dramatically altered between the two drafts.[20] Real-life comparisons with Lee's father, Amasa Coleman Lee, have also been made in the two differing versions of Atticus in that originally Amasa Lee was in favor of segregation but became more liberal later in life, later changing his views to those of Integration.[21] Tay Hohoff, Lee's editor, has also been argued to have played a major part in the character development of the novel and particularly Atticus' liberal transformation. Jonathan Mahler of The New York Times notes in his article The Invisible Hand Behind Harper Lee's 'To Kill a Mockingbird'[22] that Ms. Hohoff, at the same time as she was guiding Ms. Lee through the Mockingbird re-write, was working on her own biography of the early-20th-century New York activist and humanist John Lovejoy Elliot. He notes that the book, A Ministry to Man, was published in 1959, a year before Mockingbird.[22]


  1. ^ Boston, Talmage (June 2010). "Who was Atticus Finch?" (PDF). Texas Bar Journal. 73 (6): 484–485. Retrieved February 5, 2013.
  2. ^ "Book Magazine's The 100 Best Characters in Fiction Since 1900". Retrieved May 21, 2010.
  3. ^ Book Magazine, March/April 2002 (March 2002). "100 Best Characters in Fiction Since 1900". Talk of the Nation. NPR. Retrieved November 17, 2011.[permanent dead link]
  4. ^ "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on August 7, 2011. Retrieved 2010-05-21.
  5. ^ Johnson, Boundaries pp. 25–27
  6. ^ Petry, p. xxiii
  7. ^ Petry, p. xxiv
  8. ^ Lubet, Steven. "Reconstructing Atticus Finch." Michigan Law Review 97, no. 6 (May 1999): 1339–62.
  9. ^ a b Margolick, David (February 28, 1992). "At the Bar; To Attack A Lawyer In 'To Kill a Mockingbird': An Iconoclast Takes Aim At A Hero". The New York Times. Retrieved July 21, 2015.
  10. ^ Monroe H. Freedman, "Atticus Finch, Esq., R.I.P.", 14 Legal TImes 20 (1992); Monroe H. Freedman, "Finch: The Lawyer Mythologized", 14 Legal TImes 25 (1992) and Monroe Freedman, "Atticus Finch – Right and Wrong", 45 Ala. L. Rev. 473 (1994).
  11. ^ Metress, Christopher. "The Rise and Fall of Atticus Finch." The Chattahoochee Review; 24 (1): September, 2003
  12. ^ "'Mockingbird' Hero Honored in Monroeville." Birmingham News (Alabama): May 3, 1997; Pg. 7A.
  13. ^ "About Atticus Circle". 2009. Retrieved November 17, 2011.
  14. ^ Beck, Joseph Madison (June 21, 2016). My Father and Atticus Finch: A Lawyer's Fight for Justice in 1930s Alabama. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0393285826.
  15. ^ Whitley, Carla Jean (June 17, 2016). "Read about the real-life court case that may have inspired 'To Kill A Mockingbird'". Advance Local. Retrieved February 1, 2022.
  16. ^ Beck, My Father & Atticus Finch, p. vii
  17. ^ Kornhaber, Spencer (January 11, 2017). "The Clever, Complex Meaning of Obama's Shoutout to Atticus Finch". The Atlantic.
  18. ^ a b Collins, Keith (July 14, 2015). "See where 'Go Set a Watchman' overlaps with 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' word-for-word". Retrieved February 1, 2022.
  19. ^ Sacks, Sam (July 10, 2015). "Book Review: In Harper Lee's 'Go Set a Watchman' Atticus Finch Defends Jim Crow". The Wall Street Journal.
  20. ^ Kakutani, Michiko (July 10, 2015). "Review: Harper Lee's 'Go Set a Watchman' Gives Atticus Finch a Dark Side". The New York Times. Retrieved February 1, 2022.
  21. ^ Stevens, Laura (July 13, 2015). "Memories of the Man Who Inspired Atticus Finch". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved July 21, 2015.
  22. ^ a b Mahler, Jonathan (July 12, 2015). "The Invisible Hand Behind Harper Lee's 'To Kill a Mockingbird'". The New York Times. Retrieved July 18, 2015.


  • Beck, J. M. (2016). My Father and Atticus Finch: A Lawyer's Fight for Justice in 1930's Alabama. Athens, Georgia : The University of Georgia Press.
  • Johnson, Claudia. To Kill a Mockingbird: Threatening Boundaries. Twayne Publishers: 1994. ISBN 0-8057-8068-8
  • Johnson, Claudia. Understanding To Kill a Mockingbird: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historic Documents. Greenwood Press: 1994. ISBN 0-313-29193-4
  • Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. HarperCollins: 1960 (Perennial Classics edition: 2002). ISBN 0-06-093546-4
  • Mancini, Candice, ed. (2008). Racism in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird , The Gale Group. ISBN 978-0-7377-3904-6
  • Petry, Alice. "Introduction" in On Harper Lee: Essays and Reflections. University of Tennessee Press: 1994. ISBN 1-57233-578-5
  • Shields, Charles. Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee. Henry Holt and Co.: 2006. ISBN 0-8050-7919-X
  • Michiko Kakutain. "Review: Harper Lee's 'Go Set a Watchman' Gives Atticus Finch a Dark Side" 2015.