This column contains slurs. It is in context with the subject and I apologize if anyone finds the language offensive.
As I was going through movies in search of a subject for my column I came across “To Kill A Mockingbird” and could not resist the urge to re-watch one of my favorite movies. I know I usually pull characters from cult and/or horror films but some movies are just so damn good you have to go there. This is one of those times. My initial intention was to use Jean Louise “Scout” Finch as the star of this article. She is bright, mischievous and a character with an incredible realness and depth. As the movie played and I sat there watching something magical happened. It dawned on me that although we see a period of slightly more than a year through the eyes of this girl that the story is about, friendship, love, adventure, terror, mystery and the difference between right and wrong. At the center of all of it is her father, Atticus Finch. He is the subject of this column. This one is for the boys. This is Movie Bad Girl of the Week: Bad Boy Edition
If you have not seen or read “To Kill A Mockingbird” drop everything immediately and go get copies of the movie and the book this very moment. You will experience something so special and wonderful that will remain with you for a long, long time.
The story is such a simple one but is so incredibly complex at the same time. Atticus Finch is a single father of two children, Jean Louise (referred to as Scout) and her brother Jem. Atticus is an attorney in a small poor town in the Depression-Era South. In a time of racial tension a black man, Tom Robinson is accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell. Atticus is given the responsibility of defending Mr. Robinson. Being a moral and good man he goes in and defends this man with integrity, honesty and a high moral standard because he knows that the man is innocent. It will take Atticus and those around him on a journey that will be life changing for them all.
In the course of the film an adult Scout narrates the story from her memories. At one point we get this statement: “There just didn’t seem to be anyone or anything Atticus couldn’t explain. Though it wasn’t a talent that would arouse the admiration of any of our friends, Jem and I had to admit he was very good at that – but that was all he was good at… we thought.” By the end of the film these words ring more than true.
Atticus Finch is a single father bringing up two children. A 10 year old boy Jem and his 6 year old sister Jean Louise. His wife has been dead 4 years when we meet the family. As anyone with kids will tell you being parents and raising kids is not an easy job. To be a single parent is even harder. Atticus works hard as an attorney to support the family. You would think they would be very well off but in a Depression Era farming community there is not a lot of money to go around. Early on in the film a client comes to the house with a large bag of hickory nuts for the Finch family. Scout asks why Mr. Cunningham brought them the bag of nuts. Atticus explains that he is paying him for some legal work. She asks if the Cunninghams are poor. Atticus lets her know that they are. She then asks if they are poor. He confirms that they are but they were not hit as hard as the farmers were. I am sure to some degree this confuses Scout because they have a nice house and plenty to eat. Atticus spends much of his free time devoted to his children trying to answer questions, give them advice, impart wisdom and love them with all his heart.
What can be learned from Atticus Finch?
Although I do not have children of my own I admire parents and the responsibility that comes with having a family. A single parent is such an inspiration to me and I have so much respect for what they are doing. Atticus, a widower, must be father and mother to his kids which at times seems a little awkward being one child is a daughter. He has the help of his housekeeper Calpurnia and kind neighbor Maudie Atkinson to see that there is some feminine influence in her life. Atticus goes to town everyday and works hard to support his family. He then comes home and devotes that time to family. He has found a balance that we all need. Work time is work time, however when he comes home he gives time to his children asking about their day and making sure that his time and attention is exclusively theirs. If there is more work to be done he holds off until the kids are in bed then he will attend to business.
Having that balance is so very important and although neither family or work should be neglected it is imperative to find a balance between the two. At work we should give 100% of ourselves. If it is the kind of job that sometimes needs to come home with us we need to be able to set it aside for a while and not let it be a distraction while you are with your loved ones. When you are home 100% attention should be for those around you (and don’t forget to make little doses of exclusive “you” time because you are entitled to and deserve it) When we get home at night we discuss our work days briefly and then get onto other subjects enjoying food and each other’s company. Then we talk about family, things we’d like to do and perhaps watch television or a movie. Sometimes we get out and just go for a ride. The thing is we leave the work day at work where it belongs. I usually do my writing for this column after my husband is in bed or I get up a little early. I am actually finishing it up today while he is at work, it is my day off.
Atticus makes no qualms about telling his kids like it is. They are poor. Not like the farmers but in essence they are not to feel like they are superior or better than those that have less. In this day and age that is a lesson that sometimes seems in short supply. We have a nice apartment and a decent car and don’t have to worry about whether we will eat or not, however, we just squeak by with our salaries. There are people better off than us and there are people struggling far more than we do, however, we treat each and every one of them exactly the same. I have no jealousy towards those doing better than me and do not look down my nose at those that are not. Kids need to learn this lesson because it is so important. We are all people with the same hopes, dreams, emotions and feelings. One of my relatives who will remain nameless is very judgmental and will look down her nose at others. I feel sorry for her because it shows me every one of her insecurities rearing their ugly head and it has imparted it to her children. It is such a shame for a child to have a sense of entitlement that is so misplaced.
The kids are fascinated by a man that lives in their neighborhood that is the local boogeyman. His name is Boo Radley and because he is slow and has shown bizarre behavior he has become a monster in their eyes. He is elusive and seems to only come out of the house at night. With natural curiosity that is inherent in children the kids are making every effort to get a look at this monster. Atticus is quick to let his kids know that Arthur “Boo” Radley is not a monster and they should not bother that poor family that has seen enough misfortune in their life already.
Atticus is teaching his kids to not gossip about people and to respect the privacy of others. In this day and age between the programs we call entertainment (i.e. The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Revenge) kids are shown that gossip is a very normal thing and we are all guilty of gossip. I think it is a human nature that we need to rise above. Show of hands, mine is up. I have a rule. If I find myself gossiping about someone I make sure of one thing. If I cannot repeat what I said to their face I will not say it at all. I would love to say I will put the gossip aside but I know that I will get sucked in now and then. Privacy is very important and their are times and situations where we should absolutely step back and let people be. I am very good about respecting other’s personal space. Kids need to be taught about borders and limits. The best way we can teach is by example, Atticus is a shining one.
The center of the story is a trial. Atticus is asked to defend a black man accused of raping a white girl. It is a time of extreme prejudice and Atticus is a man standing alone in this southern town. As the trial goes on the family will be hit with racial slurs and violence. Atticus teaches his kids some very important lessons throughout. He immediately accepts the case because he knows there is right and wrong and everyone deserves the same dignity and rights whether they are black or white. He also knows that the battle is lost before it starts but he will do his best for this man regardless because he is innocent. When he first takes the case the father of the alleged victim says:
“I’m real sorry they picked you to defend that nigger that raped my Mayella. I don’t know why I didn’t kill him myself instead of goin’ to the sheriff. That would have saved you and the sheriff and the taxpayers lots of trouble…”
Later Scout gets into a fight with a boy at school because of something he said to her which leads to this exchange between father and daughter:
Scout: Atticus, do you defend niggers?
Atticus Finch: [startled] Don’t say ‘nigger,’ Scout.
Scout: I didn’t say it… Cecil Jacobs did; that’s why I had to fight him.
Atticus Finch: [sternly] Scout, I don’t want you fightin’!
Scout: I had to, Atticus, he…
Atticus Finch: I don’t care what the reasons are: I forbid you to fight.
He is teaching his kids that name calling, as ugly as it is, is just that. Words. Yes they can hurt, but we need to rise above the person slinging them. We’ve heard the words: nigger, kike, faggot, chink, cracker, whore. We may have even used some of them. How many of these words are acceptable coming out of our mouth? None of them. He is also teaching them that just because someone may look different than us or we may not understand them that we have no right to hurt them because we again are all human and deserve to be treated with an equal amount of respect. Part of the reason he tells Scout not to say nigger is that their housekeeper Calpurnia is a black woman and the family loves her and she loves them in return. He wants Scout to know that those words could also hurt this woman, that even though she works for them, is a part of their family.
I know many of us say things without thinking and sometimes we use derogatory terms. Guess what? If your kids are around they are hearing every word you say. What you are showing them is that this sort of talk is okay. Music, television and film do not help this matter at all. It is up to us to teach them how decent and respectable people act and speak. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a slur you know exactly how much that can hurt. I have faith that all of you reading this are doing your very best to raise your children to be upstanding people with integrity.
I could go on about the character but I will stop here. I am going to share some wisdom from Atticus before I wrap this up.
“If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
Atticus Finch: There are some things that you’re not old enough to understand just yet. There’s been some high talk around town to the effect that I shouldn’t do much about defending this man.
Scout: If you shouldn’t be defending him, then why are you doing it?
Atticus Finch: For a number of reasons. The main one is that if I didn’t, I couldn’t hold my head up in town. I couldn’t even tell you or Jem not to do somethin’ again.[he puts his arm around her]
Atticus Finch: You’re gonna hear some ugly talk about this in school. But I want you to promise me one thing: That you won’t get into fights over it, no matter what they say to you.
“There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep ’em all away from you. That’s never possible.”
Atticus Finch, a hero in his own right, a single father with such a magical self-empowerment acting as both father and mother, teaching his kids to be fair and just to all, showing that everyone deserves to be treated equally. He shows them that money is not the most important thing in life (working for people in exchange for what they can afford to pay for his services) that the world can be an ugly place, however we can make it a better one. He shows them devotion and love and what is important in life, your health, happiness and the ones you love. Atticus is a man that men and women alike can learn from. This movie is based on my favorite book of the same title. This is a film and book that you should share with your family. We can all learn a lesson from this beautiful story. Until next time Embrace Your Inner Bad Boy gentlemen because being bad feels so damn good.