Duke Law Journal
Publication Title (Abbreviation)
Professor Atkinson hopes William Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust will replace Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird as our favorite story of lawyerly virtue. In both stories, a white male lawyer and his protégé try to free a black man falsely accused of a capital crime. But below these superficial similarities, Professor Atkinson finds fundamental differences. To Kill a Mockingbird, with its father-knows-best attorney, Atticus Finch, celebrates lawyerly paternalism; Intruder in the Dust, through its aristocratic black hero, Lucas Beauchamp, and his lay allies, challenges the rule of lawyers, if not law itself. The first urges us to serve others in a way that confirms our superiority in a system we have made in our own image; the second engages us in a dialogue with those who may be able to help us make our common world better than we alone could ever have imagined.
Beyond this comparison, Professor Atkinson invites us to wonder why we prefer the more comforting tale to the more challenging. In his view, the fault lies largely with contemporary legal education. Even as that education recommends our using the law to liberate others, it fails to free us from our own prejudices and preconceptions. Current calls for more skills training and doctrinal scholarship both reflect and exacerbate this failure. Although Professor Atkinson doubts that literature can lead us to eternal, transcendent values, he believes that it can open us to new possibilities of personal virtue and social justice. Like the Socratic dialogues, Intruder in the Dust makes us examine our lives in dialogue with others. That, Professor Atkinson concludes, is both its principal lesson for us lawyers and its best claim for elevation in our canon.
© 1999 Rob Atkinson
Liberating Lawyers: Diverging Parallels in Intruder in the Dust and To Kill a Mockingbird, 49
Available at: https://ir.law.fsu.edu/articles/383