Two of our staff writers explore the psyche of Atticus Finch by discussing his style of parenting, as displayed in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. We asked them to discuss Atticus’s parenting style, including his relationship with his children and how he instilled conscience in them. It was interesting to see how different, and similar the answers turned out to be.
Discussion 1: A Central Theme
In this discussion, MK Earnest summarizes her answer around a central theme: respect.
Discuss Atticus’s parenting style. What is his relationship to his children like? How does he seek to install conscience in them?
In To Kill a Mockingbird, the central component of Atticus’s parenting style is respect—respect for others, respect for himself and respect for his children.
Respect of One’s Self
In order to be a good parent, you need to be a good person and you need to encourage a solid value system and sense of morality in your children. Atticus respects himself by standing by his beliefs. He defends Tom Robinson even though public opinion is against him because he knows this is the right thing to do. He endures harassment and threats because of his actions, but he knows if he acquiesces to public opinion he will not be able to look himself in the mirror. By respecting himself enough to stand by his beliefs, he sets a positive example for his children.
Respect of Others
Atticus has a solid value system, which includes treating others with respect, despite the color of their skin or position in life. He believes empathy is of utmost importance—that you need to put yourself in another’s shoes to truly know them. He takes care to pass this idea on to his children, because he knows they will get along better in life if they can get along with and understand others, even those who seem different or odd.
Respect of One’s Children
Respecting himself and respecting others make Atticus a good person, but his respect of his own children make him a good parent. He trusts them to understand mature or complicated lessons, and so he talks to them like adults and passes on his moral system and wisdom to them. He doesn’t use trickery or bribes to get them to do what he thinks is best, he gives them the information they need and the proper reasoning, and then respects them enough to trust that they will do what is best.
Through the central tenet of respect, Atticus encourages a solid moral compass and conscience within his children. Through his lessons and by following his example, they develop a strong sense of self and they better understand the world, others, and right and wrong.
Discussion 2: Breaking it Down
Ashley takes a different angle by breaking down each question, and provides some pretty insightful answers.
Discuss Atticus’s Parenting Style
We could delve into the psychology of Atticus Finch’s parenting style and explore the question of whether being a single father influenced his interactions for the worse or the better with his children. We could wonder if more traditional methods of child-rearing might have better suited his children and the community of Maycomb. We could dismantle his subtle style and calm demeanor and patient voice. The thing about the parenting style of Atticus Finch, though, is that Atticus treats his children as people. He never speaks down to one of his children. He never condescends. He speaks as a voice of patience and experience. Atticus Finch is a teacher ahead of his time, and his children reap the rewards of his wisdom and guidance, the likes of which their peers find lacking.
When Scout seeks to defend herself on the playground, Scout is neither encouraged in violence nor punished. Atticus turns her scrapping into a lesson, telling her, “You just hold your head high and keep those fists down…Try fighting with your head for a change.”
What is his relationship with his children like?
Atticus is the primary role model for both Jem and Scout, and both of his children admire him greatly.
Throughout the novel, we watch young Jem Finch morph into a young man who is awfully Atticus-like. From his words to his common sense and patience, Jem seems to follow the lead of his father.
Scout, of course, idolizes Atticus. She revels in his treatment of her—trusting her with conversations that would be lost of many adults in society. He encourages sympathy, thoughtfulness and mindful participation in community.
While Atticus Finch may be too old to roughhouse in the front yard, he is perhaps at just the right age to foster a love in his children for the things that matter most in his world—philosophy, reason and candor.
How does he seek to install conscience in them?
The answer to how Atticus installs conscience in his children is almost too simple. He does so by example and through conversation. Not only do Jem and Scout Finch hear their father’s words as he teaches them about the roles they should play in society, he leads by example, even making the statement, “Before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself.”
That being said, he gives his children room to find their own voices, “The one thing that doesn’t abide majority rule is a person’s conscience,” Atticus laments, and perhaps that is one of the truest lines in a novel that is filled with just that—the truth according to Atticus Finch.
Here we see Atticus’s parenting style discussed in two different ways, yet the answers still proved to be very similar. Both women agree that Atticus led by example and both agreed that the way he treated and spoke to his children made a difference in how he was raising them as well.
What are your thoughts on Atticus’s parenting style? Do you agree? Disagree? Leave us a comment, we would love to hear from you.