Atticus Finch as alpha dog
In a crucial scene toward the end of Harper Lee’s classic novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a minor character prods Scout, the tomboyish daughter of lawyer Atticus Finch: “Jean Louise, stand up, your father’s passin’.”
After a long battle against the relentless racists of Maycomb, a small town in the US South, the fight waged by Finch ended in defeat. Nevertheless, he displayed proper conduct in the courtroom—in contrast to the other lawyer who addressed the black man mistakenly accused of rape with a condescending “Boy” every few sentences.
Finch set an example for lawyers and other humans on how to act in a courtroom. Despite the judge’s ruling, he gained the people’s respect for his bravery and his sense of justice. He was the alpha dog as he walked out of the courtroom.
In Lee’s novel, we are introduced to a new type of hero, a “white savior” for blacks. It goes to show how quickly things are changing in that time the novel is set, even in the semi-backward town of Maycomb.
The blacks’ awareness of their rights is growing, and the enlightened population sympathizes with them.
The civil rights movement is bursting with life. Although Finch loses a battle in court, in the view of the townsfolk, specially the blacks, he is the winner. The novel is a signal that things will change for the better.
It is also Lee, with Finch as her spokesman who counsels Scout: “You’ll get along better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider it from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
This was at a time when blacks had to sit at the back of a bus. Even further back, they were slaves imported from Africa. Fast forward, and slavery has been abolished. Blacks have gained equality; America has a black president.
At this point in our civilization, we are able to more or less meet most of our needs, and have come to fulfill some of the higher levels in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as far as developed countries are concerned.
The interesting thing about Finch’s message is how ultimately it is a message about empathy, which we need to develop to be healthy persons. Empathy surpasses ideology, material wealth, social background, race. It is essential.
As empathy develops, so does the world. It’s pretty amazing how far we’ve come in the 21st century. We have civil rights, women’s rights, even animal rights. Despite setbacks like terrorism, we are moving at breakneck speed with the aid of technology toward a high point where we can have, finally, an egalitarian society.
Red Ligot, 16, is a 10th grader at the Community of Learners. His class in English composition and literature studied the novel of Harper Lee, who died last Feb. 19.
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