Getting to know a character in a book is a lot like getting to know a person in real life. In real life, the details come in gradually, slowly forming a character portrait of that person. I might begin with finding out where the person is from, what their family is like and seeing how they relate to others. Each new detail is like a clue and it takes awhile to get a bigger picture. Atticus Finch is a complicated character in "To Kill A Mockingbird." As I read the book, his character slowly began to make sense in my mind as the author, Harper Lee, gives us clues in small doses.
Atticus comes from a family of Maycomb County, Alabama landholders who were mainly cotton farmers. He breaks with tradition and goes to Montgomery to "read law."" After being admitted to the bar, he goes back to Maycomb to work as a lawyer. We find out, right away, that Atticus is a man who lives simply and who is willing to sacrifice for his family - he puts his brother through medical school and has a simple office with "little more than a hat rack, a spittoon, a checkerboard and an unsullied Code of Alabama" (5). Atticus likes Maycomb, and knows the people well. He is an essential part of the community and is "related by blood or by marriage to nearly every family in town" (6). The community supports him and elects him to represent them in the state legislature again and again "without opposition." ".
Atticus is a widower who has been a single parent of two children for a number of years. He is helped by his African-American housekeeper, Calpurnia. On the surface, he's a strict parent who insists on being called "sir"" and being treated with respect. When the kids get out of line, he often uses lawyer tricks to get information out of them and the kids feel like he threatens them "every other day. He requires his children, Scout and Jem, to be respectful towards all adults, white and colored, and threatens to "tan"" his son if he gets out of line.