The “Unpleasant Job” of Being Atticus Finch

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mockingbirdIn the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Miss Maudie perfectly describes the nature of her life-long friend, Atticus, who is a lawyer. Maudie tells his children, “I simply wanted to tell you that there are some men in this world who were born to do our unpleasant jobs for us. Your father’s one of them.”

The nature of his “unpleasant job” in the novel is simple: Atticus defends a black man against the blatantly, undeniably false charges of a white woman in the south in the 1930s. Atticus is ridiculed and threatened by the townspeople, who don’t understand why he is trying so hard to save someone they are convinced is guilty.

Atticus perseveres through the destruction of his reputation. He ignores the whispered criticisms and shrugs off the mocking insults. His belief in doing what is right enables him to wade through the venomous hate, so that he can teach his children to stand tall and proud. He leads by example; doing what is right is not always popular, but is necessary nonetheless. Even when his family is attacked, Atticus takes what he believes is the just and moral path, never growing bitter or regretful.

The unpleasant job of being Atticus Finch is the same in all times and all places: it is unpleasant to do what is morally and ethically right, even at the expense of one’s own security and happiness. It is unpleasant to defend the weak, the abhorrent, the defenseless. It is unpleasant to have compassion. It is unpleasant to go against the grain, to be unpopular, to, in essence, be despised unjustly. It is unpleasant to value truth and justice over tradition and expectations. It is unpleasant to be strong, when it would be so much easier to give up or give in. It is unpleasant to be a leader, rather than a follower.

Peace and love.

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