Atticus Finch Quotes From Harper Lee's Novels

Atticus Quotes in To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman

Harper Lee
Harper Lee.

Atticus Finch is the hero and principle character of both American writer Harper Lee's novels, the beloved classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), and the achingly painful Go Set a Watchmen (2015).

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus is a strong, fully developed character: a man of principle who is willing to risk his life and his career in the pursuit of justice for wrongly accused Tom Robinson.

Atticus cares deeply about the rights of individuals regardless of race, making him an important role model for his daughter, Scout, from whose perspective the novel is written. To Kill a Mockingbird's Atticus is one of the best-known and most beloved father figures in American literature.

Atticus Finch Quotes on Justice

"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."

"The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience." 

"Which, gentlemen, we know is in itself a lie as black as Tom Robinson's skin, a lie I do not have to point out to you. You know the truth, and the truth is this: some Negroes lie, some Negroes are immoral, some Negro men are not to be trusted around women—black or white. But this is a truth that applies to the human race and to no particular race of men.

There is not a person in this courtroom who has never told a lie, who has never done an immoral thing, and there is no man living who has never looked upon a woman without desire."

“But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal—there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president.

That institution, gentlemen, is a court. It can be the Supreme Court of the United States or the humblest JP court in the land, or this honorable court which you serve. Our courts have their faults as does any human institution, but in this country, our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts, all men are created equal.”

"As you grow older, you'll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something, and don't you forget it—whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash."

Courage

"Courage is not a man with a gun in his hand. It's knowing you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. Mrs. Dubose won, all ninety-eight pounds of her. According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew.”

"Best way to clear the air is to have it all out in the open." 

“You just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don’t you let ‘em get your goat. Try fighting with your head for a change.”

Raising Children

"When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness sake.

But don't make a production of it. Children are children, but they can spot an evasion faster than adults, and evasion simply muddles 'em."

“Are you proud of yourself tonight that you have insulted a total stranger whose circumstances you know nothing about?”

“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.”

"It's never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn't hurt you."

"Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

Quotes About Atticus Finch in Go Set a Watchman

The best and most ringing quotations from Go Set a Watchman are not those of Atticus, but rather about him, particularly words from his brother, "Uncle Jack" Finch.

Jack Finch is instrumental in making the young adult Scout, Jean Louise, recognize that although her father is not the perfect saint she remembered from her childhood, he is still a fair man. Go Set a Watchman is a hard read for those of us who loved the ideal Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird, but understanding the history of the novel explains why she couldn't write another word. She had written an ideal man of justice in the American south, and she knew that wasn't a perfect thing to be. Both novels define and describe Harper Lee's coming of age.

“Every man’s island, Jean Louise, every man’s watchman, is his conscience. There is no such thing as a collective conscious.”

"The South's in its last agonizing birth pain. It's bringing forth something new and I'm not sure I like it, but I won't be here to see it. You will. Men like me and my brother are obsolete and we've got to go, but it's a pity we'll carry with us the meaningful things of this society—there were some good things in it."

“As you grew up, when you were grown, totally unknown to yourself, you confused your father with God. You never saw him as a man with a man’s heart, and a man’s failings—I’ll grant you, it may have been hard to see, he makes so few mistakes, but he makes ’em like all of us.”

"The law is what he lives by. He'll do his best to prevent someone from beating up somebody else, then he'll turn around and try to stop no less than the Federal government--just like you, child.  You turned and tackled no less than your own tin god.

But remember this, he'll always do it by the letter and by the spirit of the law. That's the way he lives."