Lawyers and Literature
James R. Elkins

The Story of a Good Man and His Inquisitive Children

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (New York: Popular Library, 1962) (1960)

To Kill a Mockingbird won a Pulitzer Prize when it was published in 1960, and the film adaptation of the novel won an Academy Award for Best Picture of the Year. The book is used in secondary and high schools throughout the country, and my esteemed colleague Tom Shaffer once remarked that he didn't intend for any of his students to get through law school without reading To Kill a Mockingbird.

To Kill a Mockingbird is undoubtedly the most widely read and memorable books about a lawyer ever written in the United States. Atticus Finch has become something of a patron saint for many lawyers. He is, quite simply, the most esteemed lawyer in popular fiction.

Professor Elkins once again undertakes a reading of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.


The image--"old man reading"--is from Arthur Mee & Holland Thompson (eds.), The Book of Knowledge (New York: The Grolier Society, 1912) [Used with permission of the Florida Center for Instructional Technology]

Part I: Locating the Story and Ourselves as Readers

How does the presence of "boundaries," described in the opening chapter of To Kill a Mockingbird, serve as theme throughout the novel?

How do we learn, from the boundaries marked by the story, what lies "inside" and what lies "outside" in the lives of Scout and Jem, for Atticus, and for Maycomb society?

Are these boundaries and the insider/outsider phenomenon of particular interest to us as lawyers?

How does the sense of "place" evoked in the novel locate the story? And you as a reader?

Harper Lee locates Atticus in this place called Maycomb with this rather remarkable statement: "He liked Maycomb, he was Maycomb county born and bred; he knew his people, they knew him, and because of Simon Finch's industry, Atticus was related by blood or marriage to nearly every family in the town." [9] [All pagination is the Popular Library edition, 1962]

What would it mean to live in a place the way Atticus lives in Maycomb? Is there a time (if not now) when you were so located and placed as Atticus seems to have been in Maycomb?

Two examples from the story:

Consider Atticus and his effort to explain to Scout why the law applies differently to her than it does to her classmate Burris Ewell and his truancy, and in the case of Bob Ewell's hunting out of season. [34-36]

Consider the difficulties Ms. Caroline encounters in her first day teaching first grade. [20-36] Are Ms. Caroline's difficulties an analogy of the troubles a lawyer might encounter learning to practice in a new town or with a new firm?

Scout, discussing with Atticus her disappointment and set-backs at school, repeats what she has learned from Atticus about the situation: "We could not expect her to learn all Maycomb's ways in one day, and we could not hold her responsible when she knew no better." [34] It may not be so easy to learn the "ways" of a town or a place. Learning a place requires learning about people and learning about people, requires empathy for those you're trying to learn about. Atticus suggests to Scout that if Walter and she had put themselves in Ms. Caroline's shoes, they would "have seen it was an honest mistake on her part" to deal with Burris Ewell the way she did. [34]

Is it fair to say that Atticus was comfortable in the practice of law? Can anyone expect to be comfortable in the practice of law? If not, what is the source of our discomfort?

Are you comfortable or uncomfortable as a student of law? To what do you attribute your present comfort level?

Scout muses about how she learned to read:

I never deliberately learned to read, but somehow I had been wallowing illicitly in the daily papers. In the long hours of church--was it then I learned? I could not remember not being able to read hymns. Now that I was compelled to think about it, reading was something that just came to me, as learning to fasten the seat of my union suit without looking around, or achieving two bows from a snarl of shoelaces. I could not remember when the lines above Atticus's moving finger separated into words, but I had stared at them all the evening in my memory, listening to the news of the day, Bills To Be Enacted into Laws, the diaries of Lorenzo Dow--anything Atticus happened to be reading when I crawled into his lap every night. Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing. [22]

Write a paragraph about your own memory of learning to read.

Consider the following:

I first discovered that I could read at the age of four. I had seen, over and over again, the letters that I knew (because I had been told) were the names of the pictures under which they sat. The boy drawn in thick black lines, dressed in red shorts and a green shirt (that same red and green cloth from which all the other images in the book were cut, dogs and cats and trees and thin tall mothers), was also somehow, I realized, the stern black shapes beneath them, as if the boy's body had been dismembered into three clean-cut figures: one arm and the torso, b; the severed head so perfectly round, o; and the limp, low-hanging legs, y. I drew eyes in the round face, and a smile, and filled in the hollow circle of the torso. But there was more: I knew that not only did these shapes mirror the boy above them, but they also could tell me precisely what the boy was doing, arms stretched out and legs apart. The boy runs, said the shapes. He wasn't jumping, as I might have thought, or pretending to be frozen into place, or playing a game whose rules and purpose were unknown to me. The boy runs.

And yet these realizations were common acts of conjuring, less interesting because someone else had performed them for me. Another reader--my nurse, probably--had explained the shapes and now, every time the pages opened to the image of this exuberant boy, I knew what the shapes beneath him meant. There was pleasure in this, but it wore thin. There was no surprise.

Then one day, from the window of a car (the destination of that journey is now forgotten), I saw a billboard by the side of the road. The sight could not have lasted very long; perhaps the scar stopped for a moment, perhaps it just slowed down long enough for me to see, large and looming, shapes similar to those in my book, but shapes that I had never seen before. And yet, all of a sudden, I knew what they were; I heard them in my head, they metamorphosed from black lines and white spaces into a solid, sonorous, meaningful reality. I had done this all by myself. No one had performed the magic for me. I and the shapes were alone together, revealing ourselves in a silently respectful dialogue. Since I could turn bare lines into living reality, I was all-powerful. I could read. [Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading 5-6 (New York: Viking, 1996)]

With an interest in reading and early memories of reading we might ask or reflect on the course and shape our reading has taken. This matter of reading is of some importance to lawyers who must know a little about many things: we are asked to know something about people and about what they do with their lives, what they do with and to each other, and what is done to them for which they seek redress. We must know something about how to "read" people and their situations.

Atticus was trying to help Scout understand what was going on at school with Ms. Caroline and what was going on in the law of truancy. One might say that Atticus was teaching Scout to "read" the world, to see it less literally. She had, with Atticus's help, become a reader of books, but now she was being asked to read more than words and letters on a page. She was finding that her simplistic, literal way of seeing and reading the world did not work. Her new teacher needed more understanding than she was capable of . She needed to learn to read the world with greater depth of understanding.

We read not just books but ourselves and the world in which we find ourselves. Alberto Manguel, in A History of Reading, makes a similar point about the wide net cast by reading as a

function common to us all. The astronomer reading a map of stars that no longer exist; the Japanese architect reading the land on which a house is to be built so as to guard it from evil forces; the zoologist reading the spoor of animals in the forest; the card-layer reading her partner's gestures before playing the winning card; the dancer reading the choreographer's notations, and the public reading the dancer's movements on the stage; the weaver reading the intricate design of a carpet being woven; the organ-player reading various simultaneous strands of music orchestrated on the page; the parent reading the baby's face for signs of joy or fright, or wonder; the Chinese fortune-teller reading the ancient marks on the shell of a tortoise; the lover blindly reading the loved one's body at night, under the sheets; the psychiatrist helping patients read their own bewildering dreams; the Hawaiian fisherman reading the ocean currents by plunging a hand into the water; the farmer reading the weather in the sky--all these share with book-readers the craft of deciphering and translating signs. [6-7]

How might one's skills in "reading" make it possible to be more comfortable in the work we do as lawyers?

[To Kill a Mockingbird is, in a sense, a book about reading, the reading that Scout is learning to do, the reading that Atticus has taught Scout (and Jem). We learn that, while Dill has not been able to elevate himself in the eyes of Jem and Scout by his self-proclaimed reading prowess, Jem's interest is piqued when he learns that Dill has seen real movies, including "Dracula." [12] And we know that Atticus is a reader. Scout notes, about her father, that: "Why, he's so tired at night he just sits in the living room and reads." [21-22] Scout, later notes: "Sometimes when we made a midnight pilgrimage to the bathroom we would find him reading. He said he often woke up during the night, checked on us, and read himself back to sleep." [61]]

Stories reveal themselves to us by genre. What kind of story is this?

In what sense is To Kill a Mockingbird a

-- a coming of age story; an account of a rite of passage (childhood to adulthood);

-- regional writing (depiction of a place and its people)(thus, a Southern novel);

-- a historical novel (an effort to depict a time as well as a place);

-- a social justice novel (the injustice of racism);

-- courtroom drama fiction (the trial of Tom Robinson for rape);

-- a hero story (a lawyer protects an innocent man and stands against the pervasive racism in his community)

Roger Schank explains how our stock of genre stories works: “Explaining the work (at least to yourself) is a critical aspect of intelligence. Comprehending events around you depends upon having a memory of prior events available for helping in the interpretation of new events.” [Roger Schank, Tell Me a Story: A New Look at Real and Artificial Memory 1 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1990)]

--“Intelligence depends upon the ability to translate descriptions of new events into labels that help in the retrieval of prior events. . . . Finding a relevant past experience that will help make sense of a new experience is at the core of intelligent behavior.” [1, 2]

--“All people reason from experience. The differences among reasoners depend upon how they have coded their prior experiences in the first place.” [9]

--“Thinking involves indexing.” [11] Our experiences are too vast, amorphous, fleeting, contradictory to get access to them, for purposes of reasoning, thinking, explaining, absent an index. “Memory, in order to be effective, must contain both specific experiences (memories) and labels (memory traces)."

Stories, according to Schank, turn out to be an effective way of indexing (that is, making accessible and orderly) our experiences. “We have difficulty remembering ... abstractions, but we can more easily remember a good story. Stories give life to past experience. Stories make the events in memory memorable to others and to ourselves. This is one of the reason why people like to tell stories.” [10] (Schank goes on to point out that we are “more persuasive when we tell stories.” Id.] (“Stories illustrate points better than simply stating the points themselves because, if the story is good enough, you usually don’t have to state your point at all; the hearer thinks about what you have said and figures out the point independently. The more work the hearer does, the more he or she will get out of your story.”) [11-12]

-- Schank goes on to explore the relationship of intelligence and stories: “Human memory is story-based.” But, he notes, “all memories are not stories . . . . Cooking up egg foo yung is not a story.” [12]

--“Our knowledge of the world is more or less equivalent to the set of experiences that we have had, but our communication is limited by the number of stories we know to tell. In other words, all we have are experiences, but all we can effectively tell others are stories. Oddly enough, we come to rely upon our own stories so much that it seems that all we can tell ourselves are stories as well. Communication consists of selecting the stories that we know and telling them to others at the right time. Learning from one’s own experiences depends upon being able to communicate our experiences as stories to others.” [12]

Robert Scholes, a literary critic whose work I've always found instructive argues that: “We can only read a story if we have read enough other stories to understand the basic elements of narrative coding. Our first stories are told or read to us by our parents, or other parental figures, who explain the codes as they go along.” [Robert Scholes, Textual Power : Literary Theory and the Teaching of English 21 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985)]

One might try to speculate about and reflect on the repertoire of stories that we carry with us into reading To Kill a Mockingbird. Of course, no story, even one with multiple themes and motifs, will call forth a full index of the stories we have available for understanding a particular story. A story that made demands on our "full index" of available stories would result in something akin to cognitive melt-down.

We might ask again (and again), what kind of story is To Kill a Mockingbird? (And then we might ask: What kind of story is law? What kind of story is your decision to become a lawyer? What kind of story is your life?)

Harper Lee's father was a lawyer and she grew up in Alabama. Does this affect the way we are supposed to read the novel, e.g., as thinly disguised autobiographical writing?

Part II: How To Do Things

Scout comments on Dill's struggling under the fence that runs between the Finch property and Miss Rachel's collard patch, saying to Dill: "Do better if you go over it instead of under it." [11]

When Scout presses too far with her inquiries about Dill's father, Jem tells her to "hush, a sure sign that Dill had been studied and found acceptable." [12]

On being challenged by Dill to get a closer look at what might be going on inside the Radley House and a look at Boo Radley himself, Jem resists. He tells Dill: "Dill, you have to think about these things. . . ." [18]

On how to be a first grade student: Miss Caroline is displeased when she discovers that Scout is literate. "Miss Caroline told me to tell my father not to teach me any more, it would interfere with my reading." [21] Miss Caroline is convinced that Atticus "does not know how to teach." [22] When Scout complains to Jem about the situation with Miss Caroline, he explains that "Miss Caroline's introducing a new way of teaching. She learned bout it in college. It'll be in all the grades soon. You don't have to learn much out of books that way—it's like if you wanta learn about cows, you go milk one, see?" [23] Jem tells Scout the new method of teaching reading is called the Dewey Decimal System. [23]

On how to be a neighbor: The Radleys are not much in the way of being neighbors. They have simply dropped out. Mr. Radley, out for his morning walk, greets Scout and Jem's subdued good mornings with a cough. [16] There is as well the problem of Jem and Scout, and the difficulty they have in being good neighbors because of their insatiable curiosity about Boo Radley. And there's the incident when Jem and Scout build a snowman in the likeness of Mr. Avery [71-72], the kind of likeness that has Atticus explain to Jem that there must be modifications of their snowman: "I don't care what you do, so long as you do something," said Atticus. "You can't go around making caricatures of the neighbors." [72]

Part III: Teachers in To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel replete with teachers: Atticus; Calpurnia; Ms. Caroline.

On Ms. Caroline: We might ask, how does she get herself into so much trouble? Do you see something of the young lawyer, the recent law school graduate, in Ms. Caroline? (Remember Harry Seagraves's observation about Carl Bonner, in Paris Trout, that he had fallen prey to his education, law school being a place that blesses its graduates with too much confidence. Is there something in this dousing of the student in what Karl Llewellyn called the “cynical acid” of realism that takes place–perhaps in a counterfeit way–in the first year of law school?)

And since we are drawing analogies from Ms. Caroline’s problems, is there a connection between Scout’s fellow students and what we find in law school: “Miss Caroline seemed unaware that the ragged, denim-shirted and floursack-skirted first grade, most of whom had chopped cotton and fed hogs from the time they were able to walk, were immune to imaginative literature.” [21]

Part IV: The Virtue of Advocacy: The Case of Atticus Finch

Atticus Finch provides a wonderful literary example of the internalization of zealousness and its ritual re-appearance in a virtuous act of courage.

Appointed by Judge Taylor to represent Tom Robinson, a black man charged with the rape of a white woman in 1930's Maycomb, Alabama, Atticus doesn't "decide" whether he is going to represent Robinson. It is not, from what we learn about Atticus, a decision to be made. While the representation of Tom Robinson may have been the most difficult event of his legal career, Harper Lee does not present Atticus as a man who struggled over the decision. The implication is that Atticus knew what to do, knew what must be done, and did it. He didn't weigh the possibilities and dangers of accepting the appointment, he didn't try to determine how the case might affect his political career, or the pressures it might create for his young children. Atticus was rational but not a decisionist. He did not act like he was facing a moral quandary, or even that he had a choice to make. (Atticus, when he learns that Boo Radley, instead of Jem has killed Bob Ewell, faces a dilemma and a hard choice: Whether to protect the reclusive Boo Radley or insure that the details about Bob Ewell's death be made public.) Harper Lee has told the story of a lawyer known for his virtue and character rather than for his problem-solving and decision-making.

When he takes the appointment to represent Tom Robinson, Atticus does not need to figure out how zealous he wants to be on his behalf. Atticus represents Tom Robinson zealously because his character, as a person and as a lawyer, makes it impossible for him not to. It is this kind of zeal and devotion to advocacy that makes the idea of a lawyer something other than the butt of common jokes.

In the account of Tom Robinson's trial, the following conversation takes place among regulars of the Maycomb courthouse "club" on the day the trial begins:

". . . thinks he knows what he's doing," one said.

"Oh-h now, I wouldn't say that," said another. "Atticus Finch's a deep reader, a mighty deep reader."

"He reads all right, that's all he does." The club snickered.

"Lemme tell you somethin' now, Billy," a third said, "you know the court appointed him to defend this nigger."

"Yeah, but Atticus aims to defend him. That's what I don't like about it." [165-166]

Atticus, from what we are told and from what we know about his character will represent Tom Robinson zealously, notwithstanding the virulent racism of the courthouse regulars and the jury. We don't need much discussion to conclude that Atticus did the right thing and that it would have been wrong to succumb to the cynicism, hypocrisy, and bigotry necessary to let racists convict Tom Robinson without a real fight.

Atticus's zealousness on behalf of Tom Robinson is a reflection of habit and character, a story of a lawyer whose character cannot be bought by fear of what his neighbors will think or that his children may suffer ridicule. Atticus lives in a racist community, a community where it can be hard to be a good neighbor. Some Maycomb residents think that Atticus and his efforts to undo the system is the problem. Atticus isn't oblivious to what his representation of Tom Robinson might cost him and his family, but he has the kind of character that leads to choices that don't turn on self-interest. Atticus's zealousness is part and parcel of his character, not just as a lawyer but as a father to Scout and Jem, and as a neighbor.

Atticus's story has bearing for us today because it still requires raw courage to be a zealous lawyer, when that means standing up to a community hell-bent on doing what is wrong.

Zealous advocacy for Atticus Finch is a matter of telling the truth. The truth is that Tom Robinson did not rape Mayella Ewell. The truth will not be enough to save Tom Robinson from the savage indifference to human decency and moral blindness that racial bigotry has produced in Maycomb. Tom Shaffer argues that Atticus's regard for the truth makes him a hero, a hero because he is not blinded by the prejudices of his community and is able to tell the truth to Maycomb. [Thomas L. Shaffer, The Moral Theology of Atticus Finch, 42 U. Pitts. L. Rev. 181 (1981)] Atticus is a hero because he stands by Tom Robinson as only a lawyer can.

There are, in communities across the country, lawyers who have the courage and the character to do what Atticus did for Tom Robinson. And it is when we think about Atticus doing what he did, and what he had the character to do, that we think best of ourselves as lawyers. And it is when we think this way of ourselves that we are entitled to the moral acclaim that one is due as a zealous advocate.

It is because Atticus has internalized the ethic of zealousness and can reconcile it with the person he is, that he is able, without anguishing over it, to tell the truth and withstand the pressure exerted on him as he stands against the racists in his community. One reason we educate future lawyers to internalize the zeal for advocacy is so they can be zealous about truth when it is costly to do so. When advocacy becomes part of our character, as it was for Atticus, we are more likely to know what the truth is and how to tell it when the time comes. As Tom Shaffer and his colleague, the theologian Stanley Hauerwas, said of Sir Thomas More (drawing on Thomas Bolt's story of More in "A Man for All Seasons"), we need the skills to speak truth to power. [Stanley Hauerwas & Thomas L. Shaffer, Hope in the Life of Thomas More, 54 Notre Dame Lawyer 569 (1979)] [Robert Bolt, A Man for All Seasons (New York: Vintage Books, 1962)]

The problem is that this same zeal, twisted and perverted, becomes not a source of deserved pride, but a sword turned against colleague and community and a shield against moral criticism.

Part V: The Lawyer as Hero

The myth of the hero and the hero's quest are mythological motifs found in virtually all cultures; they are interesting to us as lawyers because the motif is so readily found in lawyer stories and the stories of those who have set out to become lawyers. The heroic quest entails: leaving home, setting out upon a journey into the unknown, undergoing the trials and ordeals that test fortitude and skills and fate, and finally, when fate permits, returning home.

In The Hero With a Thousand Faces (1949) Joseph Campbell outlines the mythical journey of the archetypal hero, and his description is not as dissimilar to that of the lawyer and law student as one might at first imagine. Campbell tells us that the mythic journey of the hero quest begins with a call to adventure. The call comes when "[t]he familiar life horizon has been outgrown; the old concepts, ideals, and emotional patterns no longer fit; the time for the passing of a threshold is at hand." In moving away from the known world, the journeyer faces new experiences, and finds him/herself in a story "symbolizing danger, reassurance, trial passage...." The journey itself is a "fateful region of both treasure and danger . . . . [I]t is always a place of strangely fluid and polymorphous beings, unimaginable torments, superhuman deeds, and impossible delights."

On the heroic journey a transformation of self takes place, an evolution which comes from the way the hero understands himself and his place in the world. The stories of mythic quest show us how efforts to give life meaning work out. It is in the contemporary urge to give our professional lives some kind of meaning, to give coherent form to a story of significance, that makes legal education, and other forms of professional training, a modern day analogue of the archetypal heroic journey.

[The hero imagery and the story of the heroic quest are explored most fully in the magnificent and poetic work of mythologer, Joseph Campbell. See Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces (New York: Pantheon Books, 1949). For C. G. Jung’s exploration of the hero archetype, see "The Origin of the Hero," see C.G. Jung, Symbols of Transformation 171-206 (Volume 5, Collected Works, Bollingen Series, Princeton University Press)]

Is it possible to see in your quest to become a lawyer and in your phantasies of what lawyers do a contemporary form of the journey of the hero? What problems do you foresee in employing the hero metaphor?

Consider the following vignette:

It is a sunny afternoon in late August, and the courtroom is packed. . . .

In the press box, reporters from every major newspaper in the country are waiting in eager anticipation. A prominent professional man in a large Midwestern city has been accused of the murder of his wife, and now he is facing trail to answer that charge. The crime was shrouded in mystery; rumors and speculations have been circulating for weeks, but now the moment of truth has arrived. The jury has finally been selected, the judge has taken his place on the bench. This tribunal will decide, after careful deliberation, whether the defendant is innocent or guilty.

Then suddenly, a hush falls on the courtroom. A man has risen from his table and is walking slowly toward the jury box. Everyone is silent; all eyes are upon this man as he begins to speak. He is the star performer in the drama about to be enacted. As he begins his opening address to the jury, all attention is focused on him . . . the attorney for the accused. . . . [William B. Nourse, So You Want to Be a Lawyer 17 (New York: Harper, 1959)]

Dolphus Raymond in To Kill a Mockingbird tells Scout, "Miss Jean Louise, you don't know your pa's not a run-of-the-mill man, it'll take a few years for that to sink in--you haven't seen enough of the world yet." [204]. Dolphus is trying to tell Scout that Atticus is a hero.

An empirical survey of the images that lawyers have of themselves confirms the importance of the hero archetype. [See Marvin W. Mindes, Trickster, Hero, Helper: A Report on the Lawyer Image, 1982 American Bar Foundation Res. J. 177] Mindes argues that the image of the hero, along with the helper and trickster are "alternative images that both lawyers and laymen use to view, characterize, and classify lawyers and their behavior . . . ." [179] Mindes however presents a different perspective on the hero than Campbell and Jung. For Mindes, the hero "seems best to depict the champion or representative of worthy causes, principles, organizations, or people. Not only a competitor, he takes the initiative in a series of struggles against enemies, generally expecting to best them by intelligent effort and self-faith. He combines honor with toughness or nonsentimentality. A person having this highly dramatic role has a strong feeling of being a hero, as we all need to be in the sense of being important, an object of primary value, a person that counts on the universe. He can expect to have his self-esteem sustained and rewarded by others who share vicariously in his battles." [180] [On the lawyer as hero, see Thomas Shaffer, Christian Lawyer Stories and American Legal Ethics, 33 Mercer L. Rev. 877, 888-893 (1982)]

"[T]he problem of heroics is the central one of human life . . . [I]t goes deeper into human nature than anything else because it is based on organismic narcissism and on the child's need for self-esteem, as the condition for his [her] life. Society itself is a codified hero system, which means that society everywhere is a living myth of the signficiance of human life, a definite creation of meaning. Every society is thus a 'religion' whether it thinks so or not." [Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death 27 (1973)]

| The Hero Archeytpe |

[On Legal Education as Heroic Journey, see Thomas C. Galligan, The Monomyth Goes to Law School, 66 St. John's L. Rev. 129 (1992)]


Scholarly Commentary: For an excellent essay Atticus Finch, see Thomas Shaffer: The Moral Theology of Atticus Finch, 42 U. Pitt. L. Rev. 181 (1981); Growing Up Good in Maycomb, 45 Ala. L. Rev. 531 (1994) (see also his chapter on Atticus Finch in American Legal Ethics (1985); and a chapter in Faith and the Professions (1987).

On To Kill a Mockingbird generally, see: Symposium: To Kill a Mockingbird, 45 Ala. L. Rev. 389-584 (1994); Claudia Johnson, To Kill a Mockingbird: Threatening Boundaries (New York: Twayne, 1994); Claudia Johnson, Understanding To Kill a Mockingbird (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994).

On the critical commentary on Atticus Finch and To Kill a Mockingbird see: Steven Lubet, Reconstructing Atticus Finch, 97 Mich. L. Rev. 1339 (1999); Monroe Freedman, Atticus Fich--Right and Wrong, 45 Ala. L. Rev. 473 (1994); Teresa Godwin Phelps, Propter Honoris Respectum: Atticus, Thomas, and the Meaning of Justice, 77 Notre Dame L. Rev. 925 (2002);Teresa Godwin Phelps, The Margins of Maycomb: A Rereading of To Kill a Mockingbird, 45 Ala. L. Rev. 511 (1994); Joseph Crespino, The Strange Career of Atticus Finch, 6 (2) Southern Cultures 9 (2000); Tim Dare, Lawyers, Ethics, and To Kill a Mockingbird, 25 Phil. & Lit. 127 (2001); Christopher Metress, The Rise and Fall of Atticus Finch, 24 (1) Chattahoochee Rev. 95 (2003); Eric J. Sundquistm, "Blues for Atticus Finch: Scottsboro, Brown, and Harper Lee," in Larry J. Griffin & Don H. Doyle (eds.), The South as an American Problem 181-207 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995) [see also Eric J. Sundquist, Strangers in the Land: Blacks, Jews, Post-Holocaust America (Cambridge: Belnap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005)]

For responses to Steven Lubet's efforts to deconstruct Atticus Finch as icon, see: Ann Althouse, Reconstructing Atticus Finch? A Response to Professor Lubet, 97 Mich. L. Rev. 1363 (1999); Rob Atkinson, Comment on Steven Lubet Reconstructing Atticus Finch, 97 Mich. L. Rev. 1370 (1999); Burnele V. Powell, A Reaction: "Stand Up, Your Father [a Lawyer] is Passing," 97 Mich. L. Rev. 1373 (1999); William H. Simon, Moral Icons: A Comment on Steven Lubet's Reconstructing Atticus Finch , 97 Mich. L. Rev. 1376 (1999); Randolph N. Stone, Atticus Finch, in Context, 97 Mich. L. Rev. 1378 (1999).

Claudia Johnson observes that To Kill a Mockingbird has received more critical attention from legal scholars than from literary critics. See Claudia Johnson, Without Tradition and Within Reason: Judge Horton and Atticus Finch in Court, 45 Ala. L. Rev. 483 (1995). In the years following Johnson's article, the articles on To Kill a Mockingbird have increased. See e.g.: Diann L. Baecker, Telling It In Black and White: The Importance of the Africanist Presence in To Kill a Mockingbird, 36 (3) Southern Quart. 124 (1998); Harold Bloom (ed.), Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird (Broomall, Pennsylvania: Chelsea House, 1996); Laurie Champion, "When You Finally See Them": The Unconquered Eye in To Kill a Mockingbird, 37 (2) Southern Quart. 127 (1999); Laura Fine, Gender Conflicts and Their "Dark" Projectioins in Coming of Age White Female Soutern Novels, 36 (4) Southern Quart. 121 (1998)(examines several novels including To Kill a Mockingbird); Theodore R. Hovet & Grace-Ann Hovet, "Fine Fancy Gentlemen" and "Yappy Folk": Contending Voices in To Kill a Mockingbird, 40 (1) Southern Quart. 67 (2001); Carolyn Jones, Atticus Finch and the Mad Dog: Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, 34 (4) Southern Quart. 53 (1996); Christopher Metress, The Rise and Fall of Atticus Finch, 24 (1) Chattahoochee Rev. 95 (2003); Dean Shackleford, The Female Voice in To Kill a Mockingbird: Narrative Strategies in Film and Novel, 50 Miss. Quart. 101 (1996/97).

The increasingly critical view of Atticus Finch in the literature is explored in Christopher Metress, The Rise and Fall of Atticus Finch, 24 (1) Chattahoochee Rev. 95 (2003).

To Kill a Mockingbird was adapted into an Academy Award winning film, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, and Robert Duvall, in one of his first film roles, as "Boo" Radley.

While exact sales figure are hard to calculate, there seems little dispute that To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the all-time top-selling works of fiction, with sales exceeding 10 million copies. [See The 10-Million Mark, 57 (4) Literary Calvalcade 4 (Jan 2005)(Other novels reaching this level of sales include The Catcher in the Rye, Animal Farm, 1984, Catch-22, God's Little Acre, and more popular fiction titles like Jaws, The Thorn Birds, Peyton Place, Gone with the Wind, The Godfather, The Carpetbaggers, and Valley of the Dolls.)]

To Kill a Mockingbird is also reported to be one of the top-10 books taught in U.S. public high schools. [See Top 10 Books Taught in U.S. Public High Schools, 57 (1) Literary Cavalcade 4 (Sept 2004)]

Internet Movie Database



John Jay Osborn, Jr., Atticus Finch--The End of Honor: A Discussion of To Kill a Mockingbird, 30 U.S.F. L. Rev. (1996)

Regarding Atticus Finch as a tragic figure: "Mockingbird has at least some elements of tragedy: an innocent man (Tom) falls victim to evil despite the best efforts of the novel's hero. Atticus's story too is tragic. Regarding the rule of law as tremendously important, he presents his arguments in its favor to the jury with passion and all of his professional ability, recognizing that the life of an innocent man rests upon his success. But he fails, and Tom dies. . . . When Boo kills Bob Ewell, Atticus, cast as protector of both men, must decide whether he will allow another outsider to face the same threat [harm to innocents]. Confronted with the possibility of another tragedy, Atticus's faith in the rule of law, and perhaps his courage as well, fail him. He cannot bear the possibility that he will be party to the death of another mockingbird." Tim Dare, the author of this tragic reading of Atticus Finch, contends that Atticus's abandonment of his principles "is the stuff of tragedy: a principled man has come to doubt the adequacy of principles by which he understands himself and abandons those principles." [Tim Dare, Lawyers, Ethics, and To Kill a Mockingbird, 25 Phil. & Lit. 127, 133-134 (2001)]

For a non-fictional case that raises issues of race, prejudice, and trial strategy, see Barbara Bergman, "The Sweet Trials," in Michael E. Tigar & Angela J. Davis (eds.), Trial Stories 353-398 (New York: Foundation Press, 2008). On the Sweet trial, see: Melting Hearts of Stone: Clarence Darrow and the Sweet Trials

Bibliography: Legal and Literary


To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird - Wikipedia

Reenactment of Atticus Finch's Closing Argument in To Kill a Mockingbird [video]

Writer Thanks Harper Lee for Leading the Way

Legal History: The Scottsboro Boys Trial

Famous American Trials: The Scottsboro Boys (1931-1937)

The Case of the "Scottsboro Boys"

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WPA Photo Gallery: Carbon Hill, Alabama

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