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Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” Essay

In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch is a man of action. He will never sit idly by while danger is afoot. He steps in, takes charge, and does the job right. Atticus is a man the town can call upon when crisis has arisen. One concrete example of this ability would be the Mad Dog incident. Tim Johnson ran rabid in the streets of Maycomb, and the man called for the job was none other than Atticus Finch. Atticus solved this problem with one well placed gunshot, but this would be only the beginning. The rabid dog Atticus shoots is echoed later in the novel in his attempt to save the community from committing an act of madness.

The responsibility of defending Tom Robinson is given to Atticus in the identical matter that Heck Tate gave Atticus the responsibility of defending the town from Tim Johnson. Shooting and wounding a rabid dog can just make the situation worse, just the same as wounding a town’s system of beliefs and values, and as Heck says, both situations are “a one shot job.” (109) One Shot Finch is brought in to solve the problem. Defending Tom to the point of waiting outside his jail cell, protecting him from a lynching mob shows Atticus’s willingness to carry out a task completely. In this scene he comes against an entire pack of mad dogs armed torches and pitchforks and running rabid with prejudice, ignorance and rage. This situation is a great deal more intense for Atticus, because this time his children are involved. Even with a pack of vengeful, drunken, and angry men staring down Atticus and his two children Atticus still stays calm and “put the newspaper down very carefully, adjusting its creases with lingering fingers.” (173) The same calm is shown in the dog scene Scout believes he moves gracefully, “like an underwater swimmer.” (109)

In the trial scene, Atticus must face the toughest pack of mad dogs, yet; the jury. Foaming at the mouths with preconceived notions of how the trial will end, Atticus must attempt the impossible and try to convince a panel of white people that a black man is innocent. Like making a careful shot, Atticus takes aim and sets up all his opponents. He then strikes them all down with one swift move. The sad thing about this fight is that everyone knows that there is no way Atticus can win. “Atticus Finch won’t win–he can’t win. But he’s the only man in these parts who could keep a jury out so long in a case like that.” (247) This, however, is all beside the point. The point is that everyone in that courtroom sees Atticus gun down the prosecution with cold, hard evidence, and does so with a certain finesse and dignity that no other lawyer in the town of Maycomb could possess. “He’s not supposed to lean, Reverend, but don’t fret, we’ve won it. Don’t see how any jury could convict on what we heard.” (238) No matter how good of a shot Atticus is, the jury was already infected with a seemingly incurable madness.

Bob Ewell is the ideal personification of a mad dog to the town of Maycomb. Most of the community doesn’t even attempt to treat the Ewells like citizens. “The Ewells are members of an exclusive society made up of Ewells.” (34) Bob Ewell has gone mad with jealousy and hatred. He feeds on hatred. Though Atticus attempts to retain some respect for Mr. Ewell, he thoroughly maintains his higher standards whenever Bob comes looking for trouble. “Atticus was leaving the post office when Mr. Ewell approached him, cursed him, spat on him, and threatened to kill him… but Atticus didn’t bat an eye…” (249) Even in a literal sense, Bob Ewell is foaming at the mouth.

This mad dog is shot down by means of public humiliation, however. “I destroyed his last shred of credibility at that trial, if he had any to begin with.” (250) Bob Ewell’s reputation had been shot dead.

In conclusion, the series of events after the mad dog incident are all too similar to be purely coincidental. A common theme of the mad dog runs through crisis just as a common theme of the mockingbird runs through peace. Situations involving mad dogs are Atticus’s responsibility, and it becomes evident that Atticus is called upon to pull a lot of weight in the town of Maycomb. Atticus Finch will continue to answer the call for help, no matter where it comes from, or what its for.


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