Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
Atticus Finch, the father of Scout and Jem, is a highly respected and responsible citizen of Maycomb County. An attorney by profession, he has always tried to instill good values and a sense of moral propriety in his children.
Atticus’ relation with his children is unique. He lets them call him by his name. Though outwardly detached and always busy with his work, he does manage to find the time and patience to explain the intricacies of human nature to his children. When Scout comes home from school, upset at being reprimanded for already knowing how to read, Atticus teaches her to compromise with the situation. By continuing to take lessons from the teacher, and at the same time, reading with her father at home, both could be kept happy. Thus, Atticus teaches his daughter, in her impressionable years itself, the mature demeanor of how to conduct oneself in public, and at the same time luxuriate in one’s own decisions.
For Jem, Atticus is a role model, and Jem’s maturity is largely due to Atticus’ dealings in his work and his conduct at home. Jem follows the Tom Robinson trial very attentively and with much trepidation, and actually starts believing that his father will win the case. So, when the case is lost, Jem feels hopelessly disillusioned. Yet Atticus’ acceptance of the situation and the explanation that a black man has yet to win over a white man, heartens him. Hence Atticus has a great influence over his children’s perspective of things.
Atticus always tries to be truthful to his children and takes pains to explain the things they don’t comprehend fully. The children know that he loves them absolutely. His reassuring presence is highlighted in the last few lines of the final chapter -- "He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning."
Atticus is a typical southern gentleman. He is always courteous towards ladies, even the sharp-tongued Mrs. Dubose. He never raises his voice, even at his children. His behavior with Calpurnia is meticulous, giving her a fair status in the household. He is brave as well -- he faces the lynch mob in Tom’s prison, without displaying any fright or anxiety. Though his speech is cool and formal, one knows that his heart is warm and he extends his amiability to all, including the black community as well as the poor whites, like the Cunninghams.
Atticus is primarily concerned for the welfare of his community which for him includes the whites as well the blacks. Therefore, he works diligently towards this goal. He does not posses the usual faults of Maycomb citizens; of prejudice, arrogance and hypocrisy. Instead, he takes pains to take the side of the blacks whenever needed and never compromises on this stance of his.
Atticus believes in religious tolerance and he wishes his children would learn this too. He also teaches them to be tolerant of others’ shortcomings and forgive them for the same. He insists that they respect Aunt Alexandra and tolerate her even if they find her even if they find her tiresome and rigid. He also insists that they go regularly to Mrs. Dubose’s house to read out for her, even though he knows that she showers abuses on them. Therefore, he wishes to instill the virtues of Christian tolerance in his children.
Thus Atticus is an ideal gentleman and a sure favorite of all the readers.
Jem has chosen Atticus as his role model, and he emulates him throughout the novel. However, at the same time he gets the opportunity to forming his individuality. Jem is a true brother to Scout, helping her out of scrapes, escorting her to school and back, guiding her at times and comforting her in general. When he is given money to buy something for himself, he buys a gift for Scout too. When he finds out that Scout has eaten the gum found in the knothole of the oak tree, he insists that she gargle her throat. When she muddles up her role in the pageant and is mortified, Jem is the one to console her. Much genuine concern and consideration is displayed by him in dealing with his unruly sister.
At the same time, some typical ‘elder brotherly’ syndromes are exhibited by him when he does not let her join in all the games he plays with Dill (as she is a girl). While escorting her to school on the first day, he instructs her not to follow him around school and embarrass him. He is thus portrayed as a brother, in all the characteristic ways.
Jem has a sharp mind too. During the trial, he follows all the details perfectly. He even understands the reason why Atticus was pointing out the side of Mayella’s face which had been injured. When he builds the Morphodite Snowman, Atticus says, "from now on I’ll never worry about what’ll become of you, son, you’ll always have an idea."
Jem’s character undergoes a consistent change as the novel proceeds. At the beginning, he displays immaturity -- he does not realize the distress he is causing to Arthur by his pranks. During the middle of the novel, Jem he does mature though not entirely. He has a high regard for manliness and courage and is initially ashamed of his father’s apparent feebleness in front of the fathers of his school friends. But his outlook changes completely when he sees his father shoot the rabid dog, and also when he faces the mob in the prison. By the end of the novel he has gained considerable maturity and Scout and Dill too realize this when Miss Maudie gives a slice of the ‘grown- up’ cake to Jem.
Jem is compassionate too, quite like his father. He empathizes with Arthur Radley and the his predicament, and during the Robinson trial, he cannot help getting upset at the unfair discrimination against Tom Robinson. Jem takes on from his father’s humane nature and he is portrayed as a strong character.
Scout, because of her age, and being the youngest in the family, is impulsive by nature and extremely emotional too. She unthinkingly rushes into fights and scrapes, cries when her ego is hurt and is generally is rash in her actions.
Scout is very warm and friendly. Even in the midst of the tension, when the mob gathers in Tom’s prison, she attempts at a friendly conversation with Mr. Cunningham. During the ladies’ meetings held in her drawing room, though unnerved by Stephanie Crawford’s saucy comments, she tries her hard at conversing with the ladies.
As the novel proceeds, Scout too gains in maturity. She realizes how offensive they had been by tormenting Boo Radley. Though a natural tomboy, she begins to adjust to her feminine role and enjoys helping Calpurnia in the kitchen.
Finally, her behavior with Boo Radley when she meets him, displays her sensitivity. She makes him sit comfortably and converses with him. She even escorts him back to the safety of his home. Thus Scout is an adorable character, with a great potential for perception and appreciable values in her personality.