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Atticus Finch: Still a Role Model 50 Years Later

David Mittleman

I know someone whose cat’s name is Atticus—and yes, that person is an attorney. While it might sound strange, I believe that it’s simply further evidence of that timeless novel’s impact on our society, its ability to inspire us to do the right thing, and to even become just like Atticus.

Fifty years ago, Harper Lee published her first and only novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, which told the tale of Atticus Finch, a single father of two children, who represented an African American man in the South who was accused of raping a white woman. Atticus knew he had slim chances of winning his case, but he still knew in his heart that it was the right thing to do—to represent a man professedly innocent, but yet still facing the anger and hatred of a town full of people because of the color of his skin.

The story is told through the eyes of Scout, Atticus’ six-year-old daughter, who comes to understand her father’s reason for taking an “unwinnable” case: because it’s the right thing to do. The book emanates a message of kindness and empathy, while reminding us of the dangers of blaming the poor and downtrodden for our problems. As Atticus so aptly tells his children:

“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.”


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