From Harper Lee’s 1960 novel, To Kill a Mockingbird:

Atticus’s office in the courthouse contained little more than a hat rack, a spittoon, a checkerboard and an unsullied Code of Alabama.

Isn’t Code of Alabama a law code without actual physical appearance? Is this an abstract usage which means Atticus's life is full of Code of Alabama or something?

  • 8
    It means a printed copy of the code of Alabama. – Dan Bron Jul 28 '15 at 12:26
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    Yes, any lawyer's office would contain at least a book of state laws, variously referred to as "code", "statutes", and probably several other terms. "Unsullied" means that Atticus never actually referred to it, though. (My dad's office had rows of "Kentucky Revised Statutes", renewed by subscription, so there was shelf upon shelf of versions going back 20-30 years.) – Hot Licks Jul 28 '15 at 13:43

Like other U.S. state codes, the Code of Alabama is published as a series of identically bound volumes containing the all of the laws of the state, with extensive annotations covering state and federal case law bearing on the laws' meaning and application.

Annotated state codes run to multiple volumes. Michie's Alabama Code, for example, currently comprises 39 volumes plus a softcover supplement of the most recent material; the number of volumes would have been somewhat fewer in Atticus Finch's day, but it still would have filled a couple of shelves of a good-size bookcase and perhaps spilled over onto a third shelf.

Any solo lawyer practicing in a particular state in those days would have been very likely to own (and display) the annotated state code set, not just a single book. The fact that Finch's volumes were "unsullied" suggests that they adorned his shelves more for show than for practical research. This isn't because he was a bad lawyer; it's because most of the day-to-day business that small-town lawyers perform consists of applying settled law and rote procedures.

One of the most sobering moments in a U.S. law school student's early encounters with the law library involves looking at the shelves and shelves of annotated state codes for the various states in the Union. It is truly a daunting sight.


It refers to a real written Code: Ladies' Law from the criminal Code of Alabama:

  • a prohibiting the use of "abusive, insulting, or obscene language," especially around girls or women; punishable by up to $200 in fines, imprisonment in the county jail, or up to six months hard labor.


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    The OP's reference is to the book, not to any article contained therein. – Hot Licks Jul 28 '15 at 13:40
  • @HotLicks - the article is just a reference to the 'book'. It is linked to the story as the notes show. – user66974 Jul 28 '15 at 13:43
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    The OP's reference is to the book. That passage does not mention "Ladies' Law". – Hot Licks Jul 28 '15 at 13:47
  • @HotLicks - it is just an example as used in the story....but why do I tell you? – user66974 Jul 28 '15 at 13:51

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