Lessons in Manliness from Atticus Finch

by Brett & Kate McKay on February 2, 2011 · 131 comments

in A Man's Life, Lessons In Manliness

When it comes to manly characters in literature, my thoughts always return to one man:

Atticus Finch.

Perhaps this character from To Kill a Mockingbird seems like an unusual choice. A gentleman in a three piece suit. A widower of two kids, Jem and Scout. A man who was quiet instead of brash. Polite instead of macho. A lawyer who used his mind instead of his fists, who walked away from insults. Who didn’t gamble or smoke, who liked to walk instead drive. A man who liked nothing better than to bury himself in a book. Yes, Atticus may not seem very “manly,” at least when measured by the modern rubric for manliness.

But it is the subtlety of his manliness, the way he carried himself, taught his children, made his choices, that makes his manliness all the more real, all the more potent. His manhood was not displayed in great showy acts but in quiet, consistent strength, in supreme self-possession. The manliness of Atticus Finch does not leap off the page; instead, it burrows its way inside of you, sticks with you, causes your soul to say, “Now that is the kind of man I wish to be.”

The examples of honorable manhood that can be wrung from To Kill a Mockingbird are plentiful and powerful, and today we’d like to explore just a few.

Lessons in Manliness from Atticus Finch

A man does the job no one else wants to do.

To Kill a Mockingbird unfolds against the backdrop of Atticus’s representation of Tom Robinson. Robinson, a black man, has been accused by Mayella Ewell, a white woman, of rape. While Atticus is assigned to be Robinson’s public defender by a judge, he earns the townspeople’s ire in his determination to actually defend him, honorably and fairly, to the best of his abilities.

He does the job that must be done, but that other people are unwilling and afraid to do.

Indoors, when Miss Maudie wanted to say something lengthy she spread her fingers on her knees and settled her bridgework. This she did, and we waited.

“I simply want to tell you that there are some men in this world who were born to do our unpleasant jobs for us. Your father’s one of them.”

“Oh,” said Jem. “Well.”

“Don’t you oh well me, sir,” Miss Maudie replied, recognizing Jem’s fatalistic noises, “you are not old enough to appreciate what I said.”

A man stands in the gap and does what must be done. Doing so earns the respect even of one’s most ardent critics; after facing a myriad of taunts and threats from his neighbors for his defense of Tom Robinson, Atticus is once more re-elected to the state legislature …unanimously.

A man lives with integrity every day.

In Maycomb County, Atticus was known as a man who was “the same in his house as he is on the public streets.” That was the standard he lived by. He did not have one set of morals for business and one for family, one for weekdays and one for weekends. He was incapable of doing anything that would broach the inviolable sanctity of his conscience. He made the honorable decision, even when that decision was unpopular.

“This case, Tom Robinson’s case, is something that goes to the essence of a man’s conscience-Scout, I couldn’t go to church and worship God if I didn’t try to help that man.”

“Atticus, you must be wrong…”

“How’s that?”

“Well, most folks seem to think they’re right and you’re wrong…”

“They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions,” said Atticus, “but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.

Atticus understood that a man’s integrity was his most important quality-the foundation upon which his honor and the trust of others was built. Stripped of integrity, a man becomes weak and impotent, no longer a force for good in his family or community.

“If you shouldn’t be defendin’ him, then why are you doin’ it?”

“For a number of reasons,” said Atticus. “The main one is, if I didn’t I couldn’t hold up my head in town, I couldn’t represent this county in the legislature, I couldn’t even tell you or Jem to do something again.”

“You mean if you didn’t defend that man, Jem and me wouldn’t have to mind you any more?”

“That’s about right.”

“Why?”

“Because I could never ask you to mind me again. Scout, simply by the nature of the work, every lawyer gets at least one case in his lifetime that affects him personally. This one’s mine.”

The most important form of courage is moral courage.

There are different types of courage: physical, intellectual, and moral.

While unassuming, Atticus certainly possessed physical courage; when Tom was in jail, he sat outside all night reading and faced down an angry mob intent on lynching the prisoner.

But moral courage is arguably the most important type of bravery, and this Atticus had in spades. Moral courage involves the strength to stick with your convictions and do the right thing, even when the whole world criticizes and torments you for it. Atticus’s decision to represent Tom Robinson brought a slew of insults and threats to him and his family. But he was willing to bear the onslaught with head held high.

Moral courage also supplies the fortitude to take on a fight you know you’ll lose, simply because you believe the cause to be honorable. Atticus knows that he will lose his defense of Tom Robinson. When Scout asked him why he continued to press on, Atticus answered:

“Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win.”

Atticus used the example of Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose to teach Jem the power of this kind of moral courage.

Mrs. Dubose was a sick, cantankerous old woman who would berate Jem and Scout whenever they passed by her house. Jem tried to heed his father’s counsel to be a gentleman, but finally snapped one day and tore up her flower beds. As punishment, Atticus made Jem read books to Mrs. Dubose every day after school. She hardly seemed to pay attention to his reading, and he was relieved when his sentence finally ended.

When Mrs. Dubose died soon afterwards, Atticus revealed the true nature of Jem’s assignment. She had been a morphine addict for a long time, but wanted to overcome that addiction before she left the world; Jem’s reading had been a distraction as she worked to wean herself from the drug. Atticus explained to Jem:

“Son, I told you that if you hadn’t lost your head I’d have made you go read to her. I wanted you to see something about her-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 you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. Mrs. Dubose won, all ninety-eight pounds of her. According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew.”

Live with quiet dignity.

Despite the fact that Bob Ewell “won” the case against Tom Robinson, he held a grudge against everyone who participated in the trial for revealing him as a base fool. After the trial, Ewell threatened Atticus’s life, grossly insulted him and spat in his face. In response, Atticus simply took out a handkerchief and wiped his face, prompting Ewell to ask:

“Too proud to fight, you nigger-lovin’ bastard?”

“No, too old,” Atticus replied before putting his hands in his pockets and walking away.

It’s often thought that the manly thing to do is answer tit for tat. But it can take greater strength to refuse to sink to another man’s level and to simply walk away with dignity. Frederick Douglass said, “A gentleman will not insult me, and no man not a gentleman can insult me.” This was a credo Atticus lived by.

Atticus’s quiet dignity was also manifested in his authentic humility.

At one point in the book, Jem and Scout feel disappointed in their father; at 50, he is older and less active than the dads of their peers. He doesn’t seem to know how to do anything “cool.” This opinion is transformed when Atticus takes down a rabid dog with a single bullet, and they learn that their father is known as the “deadest shot in Maycomb County.” Jem becomes duly impressed with his father for this display of skill, all the more so because Atticus had never felt the need to brag about his prowess.

“Atticus is real old, but I wouldn’t care if he couldn’t do anything-I wouldn’t care if he couldn’t do a blessed thing.”

Jem picked up a rock and threw it jubilantly at the carhouse. Running after it, he called back: “Atticus is a gentleman, just like me!”

Cultivating empathy is paramount.

If Atticus had one dominating virtue, it was his nearly superhuman empathy. Whenever his children felt angry at the misbehavior or ignorance of the individuals in their town, he would encourage their tolerance and respect by urging them to see the other person’s side of things:

“If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot 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.

Atticus understood that people could only be held responsible for what they knew, that not everyone had an ideal upbringing, that folks were doing they best they could in the circumstances in which they found themselves. Atticus strove above all to see the good in folks and to figure out why they did the things they did.

When Scout complained about her teacher embarrassing a poor student, Atticus got her to see that the teacher was new in town and couldn’t be expected to know the background of all the children in her class right away. When a poor man that Atticus had helped with legal problems showed up in the mob to hurt him and lynch Tom, Atticus defended him, explaining that he was a really good man who simply had some blind spots and got caught up in the mob mentality.

Even when Bob Ewell spit in his face, he responded with empathy:

“Jem, see if you can stand in Bob Ewell’s shoes a minute. I destroyed his last shred of credibility at that trial, if he had any to begin with. The man had to have some kind of comeback, his kind always does. So if spitting in my face and threatening me saved Mayella Ewell one extra beating, that’s something I’ll gladly take. He had to take it out on somebody and I’d rather it be me than that houseful of children out there. You understand?”

Teach your children by example.

Atticus is probably best remembered as an exemplary father. As a widower he could have shipped his kids off to a relative, but he was absolutely devoted to them. He was kind, protective, and incredibly patient with Jem and Scout; he was firm but fair and always looking for an opportunity to expand his children’s empathy, impart a bit of wisdom, and help them become good people.

“Do you defend niggers Atticus?” I asked him that evening.

“Of course I do. Don’t say nigger, Scout. That’s common.”

“’s what everybody else at school says.”

“From now on it’ll be everybody less one.”

As a father he let his kids be themselves and nurtured their unique personalities. During a freak snowstorm in Alabama, Jem, determined to build a snowman from the scant snow on the ground, hauled a bunch of dirt from the backyard to the front, molded a snowman from the mud, and then covered the mudman with a layer of snow. When Atticus arrived home, he could have been angry with the kids for messing up the lawn, but instead, he was pleased with Jem’s enterprising creativity.

“I didn’t know how you were going to do it, but from now on I’ll never worry about what’ll become of you, son, you’ll always have an idea.”

Atticus’s sister wished that tomboy Scout would wear dresses, play with tea sets, and be the “sunshine” for her father; she often hurt Scout’s feelings with her disparaging remarks. But when Scout asked her father about this criticism:

He said there were already enough sunbeams in the family and to go about my business, he didn’t mind me much the way I was.

And he bought her what she wanted for Christmas-an air rifle.

Most of all, Atticus taught Jem and Scout by example. He was not only always honest with them, he was honest in everything he did himself.

He not only read them the newspaper each evening, but modeled a love of reading himself. And as a result, his kids devoured every book they could get their hands on. (Modern studies actually bear the truth of this out; kids with fathers who read are more likely to read themselves).

And he not only taught his children to be courteous, he was a model of courtesy and kindness himself, even to prickly types like Mrs. Dubose:

When the three of us came to the house, Atticus would sweep off his hat, wave gallantly to her and say, “Good evening, Mrs. Dubose! You look like a picture this evening.”

I never heard Atticus say like a picture of what. He would tell her the courthouse news, and would say he hoped with all his heart she’d have a good day tomorrow. He would return his hat to his head, swing me to his shoulders in her very presence, and we would go home in the twilight. It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.

{ 131 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Daniel February 2, 2011 at 12:33 am

Bravo! I remember the first time reading To Kill a Mockingbird I was absolutely wowed by Atticus Finch. In so many ways I recognized character traits in his character that I wanted in myself. Although I do not yet have children of my own, I have decided to use To Kill a Mockingbird as one of my “parental guide books”. I love the way that he treats his children with love and kindness, but does not talk down to them or sugar coat his answers to their questions. I have also even thought about naming a son Atticus! Well written and spot on.

2 Alex February 2, 2011 at 12:37 am

I always thought of Atticus Finch as an example we should all strive to achieve.

3 Paul February 2, 2011 at 12:50 am

Great, great article. Integrity, duty, courage, and I especially liked the part about quiet dignity. These are all things I strive for on a daily basis. Atticus wasn’t the most… glamorous?… of manly men in pop culture (certainly no Maximus Decimus Meridius), but his example is certainly the most attainable, and through it follows a very noble life.

And is there any better garment than a perfectly tailored three-piece suit? I think not.

4 Tim February 2, 2011 at 12:58 am

Great article.

5 Ty February 2, 2011 at 1:01 am

This article just inspired me to pick this book up off my shelf and read it again. Thank you for such an excellent article. Atticus has always been a literary hero of mine.

6 Iknowlittle February 2, 2011 at 1:08 am

A great character, a great movie and a great book.

Reading this article reminds me that all of Atticus’ manly qualities are the very ones I am trying to cultivate, though I’d never consciously made the connection till reading your article Brett and Kate.

I was schooled in Australia and ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’ is regularly taught here. I believe it was my much admired male English teachers who taught it to me.

7 Jason February 2, 2011 at 1:09 am

I gotta say this is probably the best article I have read on this site. What an excellent critique of Atticus. The simple lessons in this book should be taken to heart by everyone. I hope this is still essential reading for our children.

8 Drew February 2, 2011 at 2:00 am

Excellent article. Even before I found this site and began my quest for true manliness, Atticus Finch was always one of my heroes. His outright integrity and superhuman patience is something I’ll always stand in awe of.

9 Don February 2, 2011 at 2:35 am

This was my Dad. Plain and simple.

I’ve somehow managed to go though life and not read this book. I’ve missed out. But then, I didn’t, because I had the real-life version in front of me every day. Having experienced it first-hand, I can confidently say there is no better exemplification of manliness.

10 Samuel Johnson February 2, 2011 at 6:14 am

I was forced to read this book in high school English class. There are few books we studied at school that I didn’t hate (frankly, Shakespeare bores me utterly), but this was one of them. Atticus is truly inspiring, and I’ll echo the sentiments of Ty and say this article has made me go find a copy to re-read.
And as an aside, Gregory Peck was outstanding in the film.

11 Lynne February 2, 2011 at 6:57 am

Thank you for this excellent reminder of a great character. Atticus Finch’s quiet, but tough as nails moral strength is truly a role model for all men (and women).

12 Benjamin Barnett February 2, 2011 at 7:23 am

Brilliant! Excellent post.

13 Grayson Guyer February 2, 2011 at 7:42 am

My favorite literary character of all times. Great article.

14 Terry Noel February 2, 2011 at 7:48 am

Outstanding! Thanks for making my day.

15 Dan Smith February 2, 2011 at 8:11 am

When my dad introduced me to the book (and movie), I immediately wanted to be him. I wanted to have that power, that internal drive to be what I should be. This post has re-inspired that, and I’m grateful. Thank you.

16 Brian February 2, 2011 at 8:14 am

This just convinced me to re read that book this weekend. I can’t wait

17 Eric February 2, 2011 at 8:16 am

Very inspiring. Thank you.

18 Darren February 2, 2011 at 8:37 am

This is the best article on this site I’ve read. Bravo, Brett and Kate!

19 Jason Stambaugh February 2, 2011 at 8:43 am

Is it manly if reliving some of the scenes from that novel brought a couple tears to my eyes? Great piece and I couldn’t agree more. Now I must go and reread it…

20 Ryan Tyler February 2, 2011 at 9:01 am

It looks like your newborn isn’t slowing you down. First the Altoids tin article. Now this analysis of Atticus Finch. Well done!
Ryan

21 Emily February 2, 2011 at 9:04 am

I’ve always thought this character was the epitome of manly; the type of man I hoped to meet one day and raise children with. Plus, the very name Atticus screams masculinity to me- strong, classic and unforgettable.

Now, let’s talk Tom Joad…

22 Josh February 2, 2011 at 9:05 am

Excellent article. I have a former teacher, now family friend for over 10 years, who is very much like Atticus. He sticks out in my mind more than any other and is a person I strive to be like.

23 Brian Headrick February 2, 2011 at 9:09 am

Hands down the best article I have read on this site, and I have been reading since the beginning. Bravo. I don’t yet have a son, but I have printed this out and I will encourage him to read it when he gets old enough to appreciate it, and I will start cultivating these virtues in myself. Bully guys, bully.

24 Dave February 2, 2011 at 9:13 am

Well done Brett; What an excellent reminder of manhood. May I recommend the movie “Big Country.” The protagonist, also Gregory Peck, exemplifies many of the same qualities as Atticus Finch.

25 Troy February 2, 2011 at 9:14 am

Spot on.
Atticus is a paramount example of what ‘manliness’ truly stands for, for each of the reasons you’ve listed. Good subject choice and great analysis.

26 Daniel Joseph February 2, 2011 at 9:44 am

I had finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time two days ago, and it left me awestruck and inspired. Thank you for this excellent post. This book is a keeper if only for all of the moral lessons it offers. My only hope is that it is not rewritten to placate a politically correct and uber-sensitive society like the revision of Huck Finn (which still peeves me).

27 Perry February 2, 2011 at 9:49 am

Thank you for this post, Mr. and Mrs McKay. It is heartening to see someone holding up this archetype, rather than the model that modern men seem enamoured of. This blog is a service to men and women alike, and has inspired me to re-read the book.

Regards,

Perry

28 Dave February 2, 2011 at 9:59 am

I’d really like to see this series do a Howard Roark piece.

29 David February 2, 2011 at 10:11 am

My favorite post you’ve done.

30 Thomas February 2, 2011 at 10:13 am

Nothing to add what hasn’t already been said–this was brilliant. I read the book in my high school English class but never really appreciated Atticus Finch until now. Maybe, as time goes on, I can learn to control my temper and emulate him. Until then, I can only keep trying.

31 Jim February 2, 2011 at 10:21 am

When did the old “strong silent type” paradigm for manliness get replaced by the loud mouth whiny self-aggrandizing type that so many young men seem to emulate?

32 Chris C. February 2, 2011 at 10:25 am

Fantastic article! This site ought to be required reading for men of all ages. I am definitely going to have another go at reading To Kill a Mockingbird.

33 Russ February 2, 2011 at 10:49 am

My dad was my 11th grade English teacher. He had me read this book when I was 12 or so and then again in 11th grade. We watched the movie afterwards. I absolutely loved it every time. As I look back at my dad and how he tried to live his life and interact with other people, Atticus was very visible in what he did.

Thanks for the letting me do some introspection! Great article.

34 William Hoffknecht February 2, 2011 at 11:03 am

I have always been motivated by Atticus Finch. He is a hero to me mainly due to, as mentioned, the “quiet dignity” and the sense of honesty. I love how he always treats his children with respect and talks to them like they were adults. Too many people and television shows pander to children and treat them as if they are stupid. Atticus taught his children and treated them with human dignity. I love the book and I love the movie. I almost weep whenever I see the scene in the movie where the black preacher tells Scout to stand because her father is leaving the room. I love the silent adoration and respect that he could command, not to mention his ability to woe ol’ Ms. Dubose. She is a lesson on strength and that you really need to learn about people’s history before you pass judgment.

Atticus is a true hero and what every father should strive to be. I am lucky that I am young enough to be able to play ball with my son, something that Atticus could not do, but I am sure if he was younger he would have.

35 Marina February 2, 2011 at 11:12 am

Best article I’ve read on her yet!

36 Curtis February 2, 2011 at 11:30 am

My wife is teacher of English Lit., and has taught this book in many of her classes. I read it for the first time last year. I have also learned that Mr. Atticus Finch, was based on the Authors (Harper Lee) father. Just a little tid-bit of info for everyone.

37 Peregrine John February 2, 2011 at 11:37 am

Jim: It happened when the obnoxious ones became the ones that got all the feminine attention. Tom’s analysis is precise as well as pithy.

“Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passing.”
I’ll stand for a man like Atticus.

38 Ronlyn Domingue February 2, 2011 at 11:55 am

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this article. I first read the book when I was 13 and was never the same afterwards. Since then, I’ve re-read it and watched the film adaptation several times. Atticus Finch is a model for anyone who strives to be an authentic, compassionate human being. Brett and Kate–you highlighted that beautifully.

39 SensuousWife February 2, 2011 at 12:29 pm

My Daddy introduced me to this story. I’ve always adored him. Your beautifully thought article spelled out some of the reasons why.

40 Amy February 2, 2011 at 12:42 pm

I haven’t read the entire post yet, nor the comments, but I posted the link to my facebook and am giving Harper Lee a call tonight to read some of it to her. If you would like to thank Ms. Lee for her fabulous contribution you could do so by sending her flowers. Just call Johnson’s Flowers at 251.743.3221. they will make sure she gets them. You just may get a thank you call from Ms. Lee if you leave your telephone number with the Johnson’s.

41 Josh February 2, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Kudos. My favorite book, and my favorite character in literature. Though Samuel from East of Eden is right up there too.

42 Bill February 2, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Well said, and I agree with everything posted EXCEPT the reading hypothesis. My wife is a librarian with a master’s degree. I am a journalist with a degree in English and Philosophy. We read to our son every evening before bed… and good books…. Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, as well as the standard children’s fare. He couldn’t wait for bedtime story time. And yet he never took to reading himself. We offered magazines about his favourite pasttimes… Sports Illustrated, etc. but to no avail. On wet rainy days at the cottage we like nothing more than to curl up with a book… but our son is bored to tears. He’s 27 now and still hasn’t discovered the pleasures of reading. So… that theory doesn’t always work.

43 gina child February 2, 2011 at 1:07 pm

Loved the article. I have read the book and seen the mvie several times. Atticus was a man of few words….his actions spoke so much louder. He was everything a real man should be

44 Chris February 2, 2011 at 2:21 pm

I remember reading “To Kill A Mockingbird” in high school, and sadly I did not pay it near the amount of attention as I should have. I skimmed through it enough to pick up up very superficial themes, and understood enough to answer the multiple choice questions and plot summaries. I did take away the valuable life lessons that I’m sure it was assigned to me as a child for. Thank you for writing this article, it has convinced me to go through the novel again and really dig into the characters. Cheers!

45 Chris February 2, 2011 at 2:23 pm

My lack of proof reading strikes again! I meant to say I did NOT take away those life lessons it was assigned to me for, ha.
Again, fantastic article!

46 Brock February 2, 2011 at 3:34 pm

I was just thinking of this book, when I saw this article. I am an actor in my high school theater program, and To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the plays I always list when asked about plays I hope someday to perform. I would love to play Atticus, assuming I could bring any justice to the role. Keep up the great writing.

47 Peter Ryan February 2, 2011 at 4:31 pm

A great article, and a great character.

It makes me think that I should have named International Be a Gentleman day after Atticus. A great example.

48 Mackenzie February 2, 2011 at 4:35 pm

When I read To Kill A Mockingbird for school I thought Atticus was the greatest.

Also, interesting note about the studies concerning fathers who read: my father reads pretty much everything he can gets his hands on, regardless of content, and my half-sister doesn’t read much/is below the reading level for her age, and my step-father doesn’t read much either. He’s improving though, as he got about 4 books for Christmas.

49 Jon February 2, 2011 at 5:29 pm

I saw the film first as a child and read the book in highschool. I loved the character so much that when I was married I asked if we could name our first son after him. My wife also loved the character and name, so we did. I now strive each day to be the type of father who can raise a 4 year old boy to be a man called Atticus.

50 James Dunne February 2, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Outstanding. Time society brought back The Gentleman, and put to shame all those who insist on behaving like arseholes. James (UK)

51 Mark February 2, 2011 at 7:27 pm

Thank you, sir and madam, for a superbly written post about a character worthy of our attention.

–Mark

52 Brian February 2, 2011 at 8:02 pm

To Kill a Mockingbird was by far one of my all-time favorite books growing up. It’s very true that you can learn alot from Mr. Finch’s example. I find myself losing my cool from time to time, and I’m not sure that I could always hold it in, but I appreciate this reminder of how a gentleman should behave. I never looked at this book as a model for myself. I think when I read it, I always looked at it from the eyes of the children, not from Atticus’s. I shall bookmark this page so that I can constantly read this over and over again. Thank you Mr. and Mrs. McKay. I love your work.

53 RJ February 2, 2011 at 8:19 pm

Bravo.. I love articles like this.
A good friend of mine.. and I use that word Truly.. HE IS a True friend , had recently gone on a Date. He is a Divorcee of a few years. He truly stood by her.. but another story. He is a Manly example and I have told him how I admire these qualities and how he raises His children. He often Blushes.. too humble to even see it. On His date.. a Spanish Foreign actress who is working on a Picture he is Tech adviser for , She said..
“It is a rare thing to find Such a gentleman here in American and that it is really a pleasure to go out with him.” HE came and asked me.. what does she mean? It amazes me that He himself can not see it. We have both at times noted how these qualities are missing in most of American Culture now and we recall how Men worked hard.. DID what they HAD TO DO.. or as my Grand Dad would say.. MAKE DO with what we have. And Make DO HE did ! HE was a Depression Erra Farmer. Became a Bee keeper.. 2 acre Farmer , had a cow or two.. 12 apple tree’s and a Good Hunter. So the family not only had food..but in abundance.. but helped feed and even pay many in his area who didn’t have enough. Robert , my Friend is of the old style.. Gets up before Dawn.. is Quiet.. Industrious.. Hard working.. and While I have been ill for the past year, been to my home no less than 2 times a week.. making sure I am ok.. praying with me.. asking his kids to come by and help me out.. gone shopping for me..has take time out of his work schedule to get me to hospital.. even cooked for me. ( He is an amazing Pancake maker.. and loves Bacon too.. showed him your Bacon series , He loved it ) I am not trying to grand stand for him.. But this article and My Friend are Great Examples of Manliness. My Friend , as well as my Grandpa showed these qualities.. and it soothes my soul to still see them. Bravo for highlighting again.. a Great Treasure of Qualities that We should all aspire to.

54 John February 2, 2011 at 8:28 pm

AMEN!!! One of the best articles yet! A tribute to the true Art of Manliness…

55 Jaime Centeno February 2, 2011 at 9:03 pm

I have been reading the AOM for a while now (over a year) and have recommended it to everyone else. I learned integrity from my grandfather, dignity from my father, strength from my mother…all these things were put to good use during the last month where in a matter of 4 weeks: i lost my job unfairly to a man who did not want to see me prosper (my ex-boss). I was asked to retaliate and to fight my dismissal with the executives at my company. Human resources were of no help either. But this inner strength made me overcome seeking to harm those who did me harm. Mind you this person even had the good sense to ridicule me but i understood why: He is a short, facially challenged, insecure man. This was his way to feel on top, to see me fall….i had let him cash in the chips but somehow i felt really sorry for him and had nothing but empathy for him. I could have imagined him being bullied in school for being short, fat and ugly. I figured i had been blessed genetically; why not allow him to feel better about himself. To cut the story short; i found a new job and work with great people. Blessing in disguise? maybe but at that moment where i needed to retaliate, i walked away with dignity vowing to never speak of this man until now. These are lessons no book can ever teach you, only time and experience…

56 Steve February 2, 2011 at 9:04 pm

Excellent article. I loved the inclusion of the Douglass quote, it’s personally one of my favorites.

57 Vince February 2, 2011 at 9:15 pm

I read an article that made a similar point, but it was for the actor in the role of Atticus Finch, Gregory Peck.

He did things that were good and never out of self-interest. He was the president of the American Cancer Society depsite never losing a relative to cancer nor having it himself. In addition, he made some great choices in his roles in film.

58 Jerry February 2, 2011 at 9:55 pm

Never a finer example of a man than Atticus Finch. Thanks for such an incredible reminder.

59 ilija February 2, 2011 at 10:02 pm

i remember reading this in grade 10 in high school. the general consesus back then for this book was it was bad. this article has showed me things in that book that a grade 10 mind would never have appreciated.
thank you for the enlightening article. absolutly wonderful!

60 jay sauser February 2, 2011 at 10:59 pm

I played atticus finch in a college production and I loved playing him. one of the most fulfilling roles I ever did.

61 Evan B February 2, 2011 at 11:16 pm

Atticus Finch, what a truly amazing man. Fantastic article, keep up the good work!

62 Margie February 2, 2011 at 11:38 pm

An excellent article. I especially liked the part that spoke to his fathering; how he allowed his kids to be themselves and “nurtured their unique personalities”. It takes a lot of parental wisdom to do such a thing.

The world needs more men, and fathers, the likes of Atticus Finch.

63 JeffC February 3, 2011 at 12:21 am

I’m a high school English teacher, and have had the joy of experiencing this wonderful American classic many times with a few hundred 15-yr. olds. I make sure that my students don’t get left with ilija‘s first impression. We talk a lot about good parenting, and how Atticus is doing a good job. My students consistently praise him for qualities you’ve mentioned, Brett: he realizes his children are whole people, treats them with unusually high respect while at the same time has very high standards for their character, and he remembers what it’s like to be a child, helps them think through their own problems, and knows how withering criticism from a parent can be: therefore, he is understanding of their faults, and patient in his correction. These are the traits they admire him the most for, and I cannot help but reflect on each of their experiences having to be raised by someone.

This was truly a wonderful article, but there are a couple more I’m sure you know about, but probably didn’t have space to include:

First, Atticus doesn’t care about a person’s race. His black cook, Cal (and surrogate mother to his children) is treated with the same dignity and respect, in his house and in public, as the town’s most prominent white citizen. Compare Atticus’ sister’s treatment of Cal to his own.

Second, the reason his children don’t know about their father’s reputation as “One Shot Finch” is that Atticus quit shooting years before: having discovered that he had such a God-given advantage over others, he refused to exploit that advantage and put others under his heel. Instead, he quietly put down the rifle and went to find other things to do. Of course there’s an obvious racial/social moral, but that humility would dictate easing up during a competition so that all players enjoyed themselves, or at least weren’t humiliated by having their faces rubbed in your superiority, rather than press your advantage just to pamper your ego/sense of worth.

I’m going to go back now and read this great article again.

64 Jack Bouchard February 3, 2011 at 12:25 am

I’ve been waiting for a post about Atticus ever since I read “To Kill A Mockingbird”. Truly a rare example of a man.

65 hyunsoung February 3, 2011 at 5:50 am

He truly shows how each of us is unique and that we have to nurture our uniqueness to make a perfect fit in the world for the better of it.

66 Shawn Loggins February 3, 2011 at 6:32 am

Mr. McKay,

You are spot on with your assessment of Atticus Finch as the archetype of a true man. I am, like at least one of your other posters, a high school English teacher. I love every time I get to expand a student’s world with this novel.

While Atticus is “the man” of this work, let us not forget that there is another here we may learn from — Tom Robinson. Despite his disability, he provides for his family by laboring everyday and has a reputation of being a good worker. Despite his own social standing, he has the ability to feel sympathy for another and offers repeated assistance to one who would never offer any to him in return. Dispite his own life being in jeopardy, he never looses his composure or lashes out.

Yes, there are countless lessons any reader can learn from Atticus. However, part of the message of the work is that being a man is not related to color. There are plenty of white males in the novel who do not approach the status of man. Tom Robinson, on the other hand, is to be recognized as standing with the best of them.

Thank you.
Shawn Loggins
I — in case anyone is curious — am German/Scotch-Irish. Painfully white!

67 Jen Green February 3, 2011 at 12:03 pm

A great book, a great movie, and a great article review on this character and the lessons to be learned from him. Fantastic. Thank you so much for sharing.

68 Rhubarb February 3, 2011 at 1:54 pm

I’ve always like Atticus Finch, thanks for reminding me why.

69 Heather February 3, 2011 at 2:26 pm

I’m a Real Woman all wrapped up in maternal glory. Love your site and this post! A Real Man is all of these. I appreciate that you do not draw on religious influences here. A Real Man is made of all of these things by nature. We need more men like you to help cultivate these attributes in our men.

One word: Classy!

70 Chris February 3, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Thanks for the great article AND for the recommendation of this book in the 100 manly book list.

Sad that I didn’t read this at 15 instead of 34.

71 Vince Jr. February 3, 2011 at 4:24 pm

My wife (of 3 years) is also an English teacher- like the other gentlemen posters. She has, for many years, read and taught this great work. To no one’s surprise, she is an avid reader. Actually, she’s a beast! Let’s just say the Kindle for her birthday was a great gift, but a better investment. :)

She wishes I read more and it is for reasons mentioned in this article. I am a math/finance guy and tend to read more news and blogs than I do books/novels. Well, we have an 81/2 month old baby girl. Finding AoM has been a blessing to me since we had her because it has been a source of “man-grounding” that I need being surrounded by women 24/7 (wife, daughter, and female dog).

I acknowledge why it is important for Atticus to read all the time. It is a way for him to expand his knowledge to be a better attorney, better man, and a better father. My wife exemplifies this in her everyday life; reading until she falls asleep at night (with the book in her hand as if she’s awake- hilarious!). I know that I should read more often, but usually find other things to do. This article is a good influence for me and many others out there that need to be encouraged to read more. Not only are you expanding your mind, but you are influencing the one of the most important people in your life- your children. (@ English Teachers- don’t beat me up on grammatical errors :) God bless, Vince Jr.

72 Chris Nelson February 3, 2011 at 8:21 pm

Funny. I found tears welling up as I read this, partly because it reminded me of my dad, and partly because it made realize how far I have yet to go.

73 Steve February 3, 2011 at 8:47 pm

To Kill A Mockingbird is one of my most favorite books and I have always described Atticus as an example of a “Perfect Man”. This article has caused me to want to read it again. It also reminds me of another “Perfect Man” that Gregory Peck played. James McKay in “The Big Country”.

74 Frank February 3, 2011 at 9:53 pm

I wish there was a little box I could check that simply said, “Thank You”. Anything I might say is a distraction.

75 Cory February 3, 2011 at 10:29 pm

Time for me to reread this classic

76 Mongo February 3, 2011 at 11:20 pm

The true measure of a man’s character is not judged by what he does when others are watching, but rather what he does when no one is watching.

77 JeffC February 3, 2011 at 11:41 pm

@ Shawn Loggins,

At the risk of turning this into a discussion in the teacher’s lounge that I’m sure will be too academic to hold the interest of most, I think you’re giving Tom Robinson a suit that is too big for him to wear. Most of his behavior can be explained by his utter powerlessness, symbolized by his withered arm, in the context of the larger openly segregated South of the 30s and the power relationships that obtained in it. Mayella Ewell, though at the lowest rung of white society, still has the ability to put Tom’s neck in a rope with a mere word. This constant danger is difficult for us to imagine, but in this milieu it is palpable enough to cause blacks in the novel to fold their arms around whites and assuming subdued, non-threatening postures. Tom himself is so afraid of the most disreputable white woman in the county that he can’t bring himself to even push her aside to escape her advances. Beyond his own confession that he felt sorry for Mayella Ewell, it’s difficult to isolate his true motivations, beyond keeping his own skin intact. There’s no doubt but that he’s a good man, but his character can’t be let to overshadow Atticus, who is the true moral compass of the story. I believe his truer function in the novel is that of a mockingbird, an innocent who harms no one, but only brings beautiful music into the world.

As for losing his composure and lashing out, he’s surely the better of Bob Ewell, but he does “lose it” when he irrationally bolts for the prison yard fence against all expectation of actual escape, or even living through the attempt.

If you’re interested: jeff.v.coulter@gmail.com

78 Corporatocracy Inc February 4, 2011 at 12:06 am

Great post. Universal empathy and respect regardless of differences is an admirable ethic to live by.

79 Mark February 4, 2011 at 4:36 am

This is by far the best article I’ve read on here and the site is stuffed to the brim with excellent articles! Great work.

80 Shawn Loggins February 4, 2011 at 6:19 am

@ Jeff C.

In reading your two posts, I’d like to say you are absolutely right on all counts. Further, I feel your students are lucky to have an inspired and thoughtful teacher.

If we could all be half the man Atticus Finch is we’d be much better off. Atticus is, “the true moral comapss of the story,” and Tom Robinson “can’t be let to overshadow Atticus” in any way. Tom’s actions and reactions are indeed motivated by the powerlessness imposed upon him by 1930′s Alabama. As for his function as the mockingbird, that too is without doubt.

I was just hoping to point out that Tom was trying to be as much of a good man as his society would allow.

Again, you are correct and insightful in all you’ve said, and I thank you for the response and discussion.

I hope I didn’t bore too many others. I’m entirely thankful for everyone who contributes to this community.

81 Eliot Tedcastle February 4, 2011 at 1:48 pm

Samwise Gamgee and Faramir from Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” and Atticus Finch are the three manliest fictional characters I’ve ever read about, and, next to David and Jonathan and King Alfred and Roland and Robert the Bruce and the Black Douglas and St. Paul and and John Knox and John Calvin and Thomas Chalmers and St. Augustine and Chesterton and Tolkien and Lewis and my contemporary wise friends and elders, to say nothing of many of the people the aforesaid writers wrote of (Ransom, Erendel, Syme, et cetera), they are among my primary roll models. Congratulations for hitting it on the head once more, and I hope we can expect Lessons in Manliness from many more Men.

Gratia paxque,
Eliot Tedcastle

82 Neil February 4, 2011 at 3:31 pm

Superb article. Very well written. I’m going to read the book now. Well, add it to the top of my list.

Thanks!

83 Konrad Sjoblom February 5, 2011 at 11:39 am

So many a man today have lost the standard of character. What used to pass for a man of honor and integrity is given no more a thought than a passing story in the news. My Grandfather used to preach (I use it in the kindest sense) to us kids about character…I get it…now. Thank you, Grandpa. For this and many of life’s lessons you passed along to me, that I am only now able to fully appreciate and understand.

84 Jesse February 5, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Wanted to give my boy the middle name of Atticus. Nicely done!

85 Mike Westfall February 6, 2011 at 12:48 am

Does it escape everybody’s notice that the “manly” Atticus Finch was the creation of a woman (the Author, Harper Lee), and that his character is revealed to us through the eyes of a girl?

An effective propaganda piece, apparently…

86 J February 6, 2011 at 7:35 am

I make it a point to read the book every couple of years.

Atticus has been my role model for a long long time.

If I could have 1% the integrity………..

Masterpiece

87 Leon February 6, 2011 at 8:51 am

Awesome article! living everyday, every moment with integrity is what I strive to do too…

88 Travis February 6, 2011 at 7:57 pm

I really enjoyed this article. “To Kill a Mockingbird” hasn’t been on my mind for a long time – since grade school – but it is now. This article makes me think it deserves a re-read.

89 Kurt Jackson February 6, 2011 at 11:22 pm

Love the article. It’s nice to be reminded of what a man should have as moral fibre. You can’t go wrong modelling yourself on Atticus Finch

90 Boris February 7, 2011 at 1:11 am

I love what you’re doing over here. Very complimentary to our blog, single dude travel. If you would ever like to do a guest post please give us a holler. We’ll be happy to plug the shit out of your blog.

91 Suzanne February 7, 2011 at 5:06 am

A lot to be learned from Atticus for both men and women alike. Thanks for the article, thoughtful and thought-provoking.

92 Belle February 7, 2011 at 9:13 am

he truly is the man of my dreams

93 Dave S February 7, 2011 at 12:07 pm

I want to point out that it is a measure of the quality of this blog’s readers that no one is freaking out because AOM quoted the ‘n-word’ directly. Given the frequent hullabaloo over Huck Finn, thanks to all who understand the context of the literature!

94 W. Preston February 7, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Thank you. This is a perfect start to the rest of my life.

95 Colton February 7, 2011 at 4:58 pm

“Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’.”

Atticus is THE moral hero for many of us. Thanks for the post.

96 Pedro February 7, 2011 at 11:35 pm

Appreciate the article, very good read.

97 Mick Morris February 8, 2011 at 7:24 am

Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Such succint and powerful lessons drawn from an incredible book. You have actually inspired me to share this with my teenage daughter…. so the lessons really aren’t about being a MAN, they are about being a fine HUMAN!

98 Hannah February 10, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Thank you for this fantastic article. It was only in reading this that I realized I am married to Atticus Finch. I may have to give To Kill A Mockingbird a fresh read.

99 Jamie February 11, 2011 at 3:41 pm

Cool post, I found this on Twitter. Definitely a reminder of what a real man should be, and hopefully an inspiration to the ones that are not! Love love love To Kill A Mockingbird!

100 Nicholas February 12, 2011 at 1:50 pm

TKAM is one of my all-time favourite books! Great article, so many lessons.

I am glad to hear that about your husband, Hannah, you’re a lucky woman!

I strive to live up to these points every day, and it’s nice to have a reminder.

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