REGISTER VIEWPOINT: Where is our Atticus Finch?

It's a great book, and it's been a great choice for the Erie County Reads program - for all the reasons that have
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

 

It’s a great book, and it’s been a great choice for the Erie County Reads program — for all the reasons that have been cited and for one reason more.

The book is “Too Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, and it’s this year’s book because, as Terri Estel, assistant director of the Sandusky Library, said in June 2008, its themes of literacy, race, gender and justice are especially relevant to the community.

Race and justice are the themes of the book’s climax, as white lawyer Atticus Finch defends a black man, Tom Robinson, on a rape charge, in a place and time in which a guilty verdict is a foregone conclusion simply because Tom Robinson is black.

There are many reasons the book should resonate with us today, and those reasons have been explored in the many events local libraries are using to celebrate the book: Life in hard times — the book is set in the Deep South of the Depression, and one of Atticus’ clients pays him in goods from his farm — and the stated themes of justice and equality.

But there’s another lesson to take from the book, and it’s the main reason “Mockingbird” is a great choice for this year’s reading project — and it lies at the heart of everything Atticus Finch does.

Atticus is considered a hero by most people because he stood up for a person who wasn’t going to get a fair shake no matter what.

That’s certainly laudable enough. But it’s more basic than that.

In the words of the character Miss Maudie Atkinson, Atticus “was born to do our unpleasant jobs for us” — as in the scene, well before the trial, in which Atticus shoots the rabid dog.

That’s what was done with rabid dogs in that time and place. It was a dirty, unpleasant thing, and all that could be said of it was that it was less cruel than letting the dog die of rabies — or infect someone with a bite.

And no one wanted to do it.

So Atticus, who in the words of daughter Scout, “hated guns and had never been to any wars,” got a rifle and did it — he did what needed to be done, and what no one else wanted to do.

That was at the heart of everything Atticus Finch did, and that’s what more of the people we place in charge need to emulate — especially when running things this year is all about making the tough choices no one wants to make.

And that’s why, for this year’s reading project, there was no better choice than “Mockingbird.”