Tragedy occurs in many literary works throughout our history. Generally, the classic tragic hero in literature is characterized as a noble man, of many virtues and high position. However, according to Arthur Miller in his theatre essay, "Tragedy and the Common Man," "any common man is as apt a subject for tragedy in its highest sense as a king." Thus, unlike the classic tragic hero, such as Odysseus from Homer's The Odyssey, the modern tragic hero is usually an ordinary man who possesses qualities that elevates him above the ordinary masses as he fights courageously against the overwhelming odds of the society. Accordingly, Atticus Finch, of Harper Lee's novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, as well as John Proctor, from Miller's own play, The Crucible, can be identified as such tragic heroes.
Harper Lee, in her novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, portrays the prejudiced society of the South in the 1930s. The protagonist of the story, Atticus Finch, represents the rational man of the highly emotional world of Maycomb, Alabama. He is characterized as a stable and mature figure who is able to cope with the unreasonable and highly emotional element of the town. Atticus is one of the few people of the town who understands the individual worth of a person, regardless of the color of his skin. Thus, when Tom Robinson, a black man, was accused of beating and raping Mayella Ewell, a white woman, the local judge appoints Atticus to represent Tom knowing that Atticus will try his best to help Tom to seek for justice. Needless to say, Atticus took on this exceptionally unpopular client without hesitation. The task required him to challenge the comfortable myths of rural southern life. At a minimum, this made him and his children highly unpopular; and at one point, this even placed him and his family in mortal danger. Naturally, his innocent young daughter, Scout, questions why Atticus is willing to defend Tom to the objections of the white folks in their community.