In To Kill a Mockingbird, why do the children call their father Atticus and not dad?
Father-children relations is of no less importance than the problem of racism in the novel To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee. The main character Atticus Finch embodied in the film by Gregory Peck in 1962 was claimed by the American Film Institute the greatest hero of American films. For dozens of years, the name Atticus tops the baby list and became a symbol of a perfect man and a father.
Even if he is too good to be true, what makes Atticus an example to follow for his children? Why do the children call him Atticus and not Dad? What happens is, naturally, never seen directly by the narrator (Phoebe Adams, 1960). Everything that happens a reader can see in the retrospect eyed by a girl nicknamed Scout. Atticus is a widow and brings up his children Jim and Scout himself. Most of his time Atticus spends at his work and his children seem to be “kicking the hands.” But in fact, the restlessness of the children is only an illusion.
Atticus brings them free from any restrictions, trying to make them decent people. In his short talks with the children, his words have more influence and weight than thousands of threats, punishments, suggestions, and other “teaching tricks.” Identifying with others Atticus uses two different approaches: he suggests to his children “to try to stand in someone else’s shoes and consider the world from that perspective; and, on the other hand, he urges them to climb into someone else’s skin and walk around in it” (Thomas DiPiero, 2010). And it is not so important what he says to children but how he teaches them by his own way of life: he does not ignore his children’s questions, moreover, he explains what and why, and lets them learn from their own experience only slightly pushing his children in the right direction. And Atticus’ children respect their father for this. At the same time, Scout and Jim have to acknowledge that their father is weak and no longer is young. Even though the children are ready to turn into real cubs defending the honor of their father, they consider Atticus a looser and regard him as their equal that gives them the right not to call him Dad. They live in the illusion that Atticus is the same downtrodden person as they are regarded by the residents of Maycomb.
Nevertheless, Atticus gives a good receipt of how to teach without preaching and how to keep children ideal without turning them into helpless idealists and not to kill a mockingbird which is a crime. And to learn this it is not necessary to be called Dad by one’s children.
Phoebe, Adams. Two Ways of Looking at a Mockingbird (1960). University of Rochester
Thomas, DiPiero. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee ( 2010) The Atlantic Monthly; August, 1960; Reader’s Choice; Volume 206, No. 2; pages 98-99.