Atticus is universally respected throughout town as a venerated lawyer. Even though he has taken some controversial cases in his career, he has maintained his status as a public figure of impeccable integrity who is always on the side of justice. Atticus practices exactly what he preaches, and he conducts himself in private exactly as he does in public. He is a profoundly ethical and moral person, but above all, he believes in the strength and truth of the law.
But Atticus isn’t perfect. Physically, Atticus is no longer a pillar of strength. He has arthritis, which causes him a great deal of pain, and even though he tries to maintain his daily lifestyle and stoically avoids complaining about his pain, he frequently has to rely on others to drive him and support him in his day-to-day activities.
Jean Louise has adapted to Atticus’s physical decline, and she is sad but pragmatic about his inevitable progression into old age. However, Jean Louise cannot fathom the idea that Atticus might not be the pinnacle of values and ethics that she had always believed him to be. Atticus has been Jean Louise’s moral lodestone throughout her entire life. Whatever Atticus said or did, she knew was ethically correct, and she knew that Atticus would never lie to her or treat anyone with anything other than dignity.
Atticus’s attendance at the Maycomb County Citizens’ Council, a white supremacist organization, appears to fly in the face of everything he taught Jean Louise and Jem as they were growing up. However, he is still comporting himself in the fashion he has cultivated throughout his entire life. Atticus does not have prejudice against individuals, and he tries to meet them on their own terms, rather than imposing his own set of values on them. Atticus knows that Jean Louise cannot rely on him through her entire life to serve as her conscience. For Jean Louise to become wholly her own, independent person, she needs to be able to react according to her own emotions and to have the confidence in her own beliefs to stand up for what she knows to be right. For Atticus, standing up for one’s own beliefs doesn’t mean surrounding oneself by likeminded people. Atticus must negotiate among people of many different belief systems, and part of this negotiation requires knowing when to speak up and when to remain diplomatically silent.
Atticus is concerned with honesty and integrity, but he is not a rabble-rouser looking to lead a revolution. Atticus conducts himself according to his own moral standards, but he does not attempt actively to manipulate other peoples’ belief systems. By the end of the novel, Atticus does not appear to be a racist, but he does not appear to be color blind, either. Atticus is a man of his times. He treats people fairly and equally under the law, but he does not try to change people who do not do so. Atticus is more concerned, at the end of the day, about the law and justice than about equality for all people.
More characters from Go Set a Watchman
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