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Érik Orsenna

In discussing the parenting style of Atticus, consider his relationship to his children and how he tries to develop their conscience.

Because Atticus has a deep commitment to equality and justice, he focuses on those virtues when it comes to his children. He does not have them call him "father" or "dad," but has them call him Atticus, just like everyone else. He does this not to distance himself as a parent to them, but to help them learn to interact with others on equal terms. The relationship between a parent and a young child is often very unequal, and Atticus wants to avoid that as much as possible, so his children can develop a sense of identity apart from "just" being his son or daughter. Still, he works to teach them through the knowledge he imparts to them and through his own actions. By taking Tom Robinson's case, he shows his children his commitment to justice, without the need to say anything at all. He comforts them when they need it most, but does not shy away from allowing them to learn lessons that are harsh and seemingly unfair. This is the only way they will develop their own consciences and become full adults as they grow up. Atticus believes in justice and fairness for everyone, and that includes his children if they have done something wrong.

When examining the scene regarding Tom Robinson's trial, explore how it relates to the rest of the story.

Good and evil both run through To Kill a Mockingbird, and they are examined from more than one angle. They are both shown in the trial of Tom Robinson through the prejudice of the white townspeople to the black community. A town that would otherwise be good and admirable was poisoned because of its prejudice against skin color, and innocent people like Scout and Jem were both affected by it. Laying out racial prejudice is one of the things the author was easily able to do through the mechanism of the trial. Having a trial was also a good way to present facts and information by which the prejudice of the white individuals in the town could be measured in a more objective way. There is no room for doubt about the innocence of Tom Robinson, but he is found guilty anyway. Some of the questions surrounding good and evil are touched upon before the trial, but after the trial concludes they become the dominant forces throughout the rest of the story.

The author portrays the black community through Tom Robinson and Calpurnia, but it is important to consider whether that is an accurate portrayal, or whether the author is idealizing the community.

Many of the scenes of the black community are idealized in the novel. This is especially true with the black church where Calpurnia takes the children, as well as the balcony where all the black people sit during Tom Robinson's trial. This is not to say that the description of the black community should not be believed, as it is not completely unrealistic. However, the author is very quick to show every good quality of the community while glossing over or completely avoiding any of the poor qualities. It is important to show the black community this way, since the white community in the story sees black individuals as being lower than the poorest white trash families in their community. The discrepancy between what is true and what is believed through prejudice is made even larger this way, allowing the author to emphasize it and drive home one of the central points of the novel. Without the idealization of the black community, this important lesson may have been lost.

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