Both Atticus Fince and Mr. Fielding are both in a time in history when their culture was dominant but where they did not subscribe to its ideology. Atticus, despite immeasurable odds, fights to defend Tom Robinson in an impossible case in which he ends up losing. But Atticus is no dreamy optimistic. He knows what faces him but the promise of The Constitution as well as desire to serve as an important role model for his children, is what is most important to him. And in the end, he does not, and the reader is made to feel that he will never, submit to the herd mentality concerning racial superiority. Mr. Fielding, in 1940’s India, is in the middle of their right for decolonization and to have a country of their own. Mr. Fielding has neither time nor desire to identify himself with his own heritage and country in order to submit his will over the people of India. He cares little about class, race and the impediments that the two are supposed to place on a person’s friendships. Atticus must fight his own society in order to give Tom Robinson a fair trial, or as fair as Atticus can provide. But since he does not require the cheer of the crowds and approval from the town, but is guided by faith and a strong sense of right and wrong. Mr. Fielding is the same to a degree and for a good portion of A Passage to India. He cares nothing for social or ethnic classes and identifies with people as individuals instead of what class or race they belong to and loses friends because of it.
Atticus Fince, in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is the quintessential hero. He is a man of strength in a time when many others have submitted the herd mentality of blaming their troubles, brought on by the Great Depression, on the minority within their society. Atticus is hard to pinpoint but as it is said in the book: “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.” (Lee, 1999, p. 35) Atticus is aware of the situation that he is in. He is at the center of a racially charged atmosphere in 1930’s South. he is given the impossible task of defending a black man against the charge of raping a white woman, despite the lack of credible evidence as well as the believability of the defendant and her father. Atticus knows in his heart that there is little chance of winning the case and he knows that the sentence for a black man raping a white woman is life in prison or even death. Finch also knows that he is a father, a single parent in charge of two young and impressionable children who are in danger of submitting to the prevailing ideology about African Americans and perhaps all minorities in general. In this sense, the trial serves to give Tom Robinson, the accused, the right of a trial as protected by the Constitution as well as giving an important life lesson to his children.
Whether Atticus has been able to befriend and hold onto any lasting and meaningful friendship with African Americans is unclear. It is obvious that the society in which he lives would discourage such things but it does not seem to be the case that Atticus is put off by such social pressures. It would seem likely that if the natural course of events had taken place and a friendship with an African American were able to present itself, Atticus would take that opportunity. But the character of Atticus, with regard to both African Americans and whites, is not outgoing and he does not make any efforts to make friends with his outward personality. But, due to his ability to judge people based upon their own personal merits and not on racial prejudices, makes it all the more likely that such a friendship will occur. It also makes it more likely that Atticus will do all in his power to give Tom Robinson the best defense he can give.
Atticus teaches by example and the lesson that he teaches is no place better seen than in the courtroom. Atticus is able to give Tom Robinson the best defense that he can, not only because he believes that Tom is innocent and that he deserves the same rights afforded to him as is the promised to any United States citizen, but that he is able to see through the hypocrisy that is so clear and evident in 1930’s Southern culture. As part of his defense, he makes an impassioned plea to the jurors, not to give in to the impediment on one’s own sense of justice concerning racial prejudice but to think in areas of right and wrong and hard facts. Atticus makes one fact clear but which in the end, fell on deaf ears and hearts: “You know the truth, and the truth is this: some Negros lie, some negroes are immoral, some Negro men are not to be trusted around women- black or white But this is the 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, which has never done an immoral think, and there is no man living who has never looked upon a woman without desire.” ( Lee, 1999. p. 204) This is part of the closing statement given by Atticus and it is an impassioned plea that instills a powerful response in the black community regarding the goodness of Atticus but only an apathetic response from the white community and to a greater extent, the white jurors who end in the end, find Tom Robinson guilty of rape. He is sentenced and later found dead. As was the case upon hearing that he was asked to defend Tom Robinson, a quiet anger and resolve comes over Atticus but he does not let his emotions take the best of him.
“Atticus Finch is the same in his house as he is in the streets.” (Lee, 1999 p. 44) This is a very accurate statement about Atticus. The same yesterday, today and tomorrow, regardless of what may come his way. he is a single father of two very young and inquiring children, he is paid very little for his efforts, was probably not paid at all for his defense of an innocent man in Tom Robinson, and yet could only expect failure for his efforts. Atticus knows of the racially charged atmosphere and the impossible odds facing him. But he is not daunted and continues to complete the task that is ahead of him. He does not complain, nor does he throw in the towel and submit to the popular concept of racial prejudice as is the case with Mr. Fielding. Atticus could have denied the judge’s request to represent Tom Robinson and in the process, save his efforts for a more popular case that would have yielded him more of an income during a time when Atticus was in dire need of income. Being paid produce for his efforts by his clients can only go so far and a man may start to compromise his own morals and sense of ethics in such an atmosphere.
But this is not the case with Atticus and if the book had continued into the 1940’s and 1950’s, Atticus would still be doing what he thought was correct and right with regard to his faith and his desire to present a positive role model for his impressionable children. Atticus, when questioned by Scout as to why exactly he is defending Tom Robinson, especially when it is plain even to young Scout, that the effort seems like a lost cause. “This case, Tom Robinson’s case, is something that goes to the essence of a man’s consciousness; Scout, I couldn’t go to church and worship God if I didn’t try to help that man.” (Lee, 1999 p.104) This helps to solidify Atticus as a man completely unaffected by the racial atmosphere that was so evident at that time. He is motivated by his faith and his sense of morality and the rest be damned. That makes a man a hero.
The character of Mr. Fielding, in E.M Forester’s A Passage to India, deals with many of the same issues as does To Kill a Mockingbird. After WWII, England’s empire was under siege. In order to win the war, England went broke and the cost of the empire as well as a new opinion in the world and in England, that their empire was more oppressive than glorious, seemed to prevail over the country. England’s colonization of India, the second most populous country in the world, stood as the last major holding and once India went the far of free elections in 1947, the days of England’s empire were severely numbered. One source of strife between the English and Indians was their hatred for each other. The English looked down on the Indians as superior to them and the Indians, wanting their own independence and remembering how they had been treated in the past by the English, were very suspicious of anyone English. These motivating factors come into play in the relationships of Mr. Fielding and Aziz and Adela.
Mr. Fielding, like Atticus has little patience for racial strife and categorizing, despite the importance that the English place on this in order to keep their hold on the people. Atticus seemed to have no time or interest in putting people in classes and therefore, assuming that said individual will have to act like one is assumed to behave. Mr. Fielding treats people as if they were individuals; a premise that has alienated him from the other English in India. At the beginning of the story, this seems to have no effect upon Mr. Fielding and it seems as though he will befriend who he wants, based solely upon his own terms.
Mr. Fielding, like Atticus, helps to bridge the gap between the English and the Indians. But this comes at a price as it did with Atticus. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus is spat upon by the defendant’s father as well as being met with confusion by the other townspeople regarding his ability to defend a black man. Mr. Fielding has the same happen to him. The English are afforded a first class treatment and given certain privileges that are denied Indians in their own country. But in the same degree, Mr. Fielding cannot share the same degree of suspicion towards the English. This is due mostly to the fact that even though Mr. Fielding has been ostracized by his countrymen for his liberal treatment towards the Indians, the same degree of racial prejudice and mistreatment has not been levied towards him. Mr. fielding is no colonial apologist but comments : “ England holds India for her own good.” This makes Mr. Fielding unable to truly able to associate with the Indians since the major source for contemptment, he is not able to comprehend. But then, Mr. Fielding says: “Come on, India’s not as bad as all that. Other side of the earth, if you like, but we stick to the same old moon.” ( Forester, 1989 p. 32) Mr. Fielding is a complex character. He is not the type to demonstrate either for or against a cause. He accepts the way that things are, it seems, and then goes about his business. But inside this calm exterior, he is battling with himself over the issue of English colonization and the assumed inferiority of the Indians.
He does not have a romanticized version of England and the modern conveniences are not present in India, but Mr. Fielding, in the end, will remain happy wherever he is. This is just as long as he has the friendship that he needs. So, fittingly, Forester says this about Mr. Fielding in describing his racial feelings: “ He did not realize that ‘white’ has no more to do with a color than ‘God save the King’ with a god, and that it is the height of impropriety to consider what it does connote.”( Forester, 1989 p.65)
Both characters of Atticus Finch and Mr. Fielding deal with a dominant culture and their treatment of the minority, or as in the case of Mr. Fielding, the Indian majority which greatly outnumber the English minority but are still treated as a submissive culture. Mr. Fielding, though able to fight this injustice and the injustice which is perpetrated upon India by the English and their quest to keep and strengthened their empire, eventually gives in to this ideology and identified himself not by what is right but by what is popular and easy. In this way, Mr. Fielding is the exact opposite to Atticus. Atticus, despite being faced by impossible odds and seen as radical by his feelings on race in 1930’s Southern society, still allows his actions to be dictated by his faith, an underlining sense in right and wrong and the great desire to serve as a positive role model for his children. “ When a child ask you something, answer him for goodness sake. But don’t’ make a production of it. Children are children, but they can spot evasion quicker than adults, and evasion simply muddle them.” ( Lee, 1999 p. 74) Atticus sees things in black and white, not by way of a man’s color but in what is right and what is wrong. He is an independent force for good and if he is left unchanged by his dealings in the Tom Robinson court case, it seems unlikely that future antecedents will produce in Atticus, an unfavorable outcome.
This cannot be said for Mr. Fielding, though he is a source for good and fair treatment towards the Indian majority. He is unmoved and attempts to remain apathetic towards the racially charged atmosphere of late 1940’s India. But in the end, those attempts fail.
Lee, Harper, To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Harper Collins. 1999
Forester, E.M. A Passage to India. Orlando: Harcourt Brace. 1989