Friday, April 13, 2018

Crafting a Great Hero - Part 1 Atticus Finch

by Elva Cobb Martin

Who doesn't like a great hero?

Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird fame is one hero I love. I don't know whether my fascination is more with the character Harper Lee created or  for the actor who played his part in the movie, Gregory Peck. Who doesn't know and love Gregory Peck? Okay, spoken like a grandmother.

For those, hopefully few, of you who are unfamiliar with this great novel, it is the story of a small town lawyer (Atticus) who defends a black man accused of rape of a white woman back in Depression days long before the civil rights movement. The setting is a 1930's southern town but the book was published in 1960 and won the Pulitzer Prize. It has become a classic of American literature.
One reviewer says "To Kill a Mockingbird is probably the most widely-read book dealing with racism in America and its protagonist, Atticus Finch, the most enduring fictional image of racial heroism. Atticus serves as moral hero and a model of integrity for lawyers everywhere."

Let's take a look at hero Atticus, and I give credit to a blog by Brett and Kate McKay who also see great manly lessons in this character. What can we learn from this character to help us  construct an unforgettable hero for our novels?

1) A real hero lives with integrity every day.

In Maycomb County, Atticus was known as a man who was "the same in his house as he is on the public streets." He did not have one set of morals for business and one for family or one for different days of the week. He tells his young daughter, Scout, "The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."

2) The most important form of courage is moral courage.

Atticus certainly possessed physical courage. When Tom was in jail, he sat outside all night reading and faced down an angry mob intent on lynching the prisoner. And he also faced down and shot a rabid dog threatening the town.

But his moral courage was amazing. When Scout asked him why he continued to press on with a case he most likely would lose, he answered,"Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is not a reason for us not to try to win."

3) A real hero does the job no one else wants to do.

Atticus is assigned to be Tom Robinson's public defender by a judge. He earns the townspeople's anger in his determination to really defend the accused, honorably and fairly, to the best of his abilities. He does the job that other people are unwilling or afraid to do. After facing the town's taunts and threats for his defense of Tom Robinson, Atticus is once more elected to the state legislature--unanimously.

4) A real hero lives with cool dignity. . .

After the trial the real villain, who was father of the girl, threatened Atticus's life, grossly insulted him, and spat in his face. Atticus simply took out a handkerchief and wiped his face prompting the attacker to ask: "Too proud to fight, you nigger-loving bastard?"

"No, too old," Atticus replied before putting his hands in his pocket and walking away.

At one point in the story, Jem and Scout feel disappointed in their father who at 50 doesn't seem to know how to do anything "cool." But they change their minds when Atticus takes down a rabid dog with a single bullet and they learn their father is known as the "deadest shot in Maycomb County."

I crafted my romantic suspense hero in Summer of Deception, Luke Barrett, after this type of hero. Luke fought in the Middle East and lost an eye. He is a widower, his wife was killed in an auto accident and he battles bitterness. He has a young daughter he is trying to rear while managing his Charleston Tea Plantation. In the course of the story he demonstrates his integrity and his physical, moral, and intellectual courage in various cool ways before he finds a happy ending with the summer nanny heroine, Rachel.

Thanks for stopping by. Do you have a characteristic of your fave hero to add to our list? I would love to hear it and may include it in Part 2 of this series on Constructing a Hero. I'll be taking a look at another favorite fictional hero. Please share this blog by clicking on the icons below.


Elva Cobb Martin is vice-president of the South Carolina Chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers. She is a former school teacher and a graduate of Anderson University and Erskine College. She has two inspirational novels published with Lighthouse Publishers of the Carolinas. Summer of Deception, a contemporary romantic suspense, and an historical romance, In a Pirate’s Debt. Both have spent time on Amazon’s 100 Best Sellers List for Women’s Religious Fiction. Decision, Charisma, and Home Life have carried Elva's articles. Jim Hart of Hartline Literary represents her. She and her husband Dwayne are semi-retired ministers. A mother and grandmother, Elva lives in South Carolina. Connect with her on her web site,on Twitter; Facebook;  and Pinterest
        Link to her romance novels and non-fiction works on Amazon: