For those people who are already vocally distraught about how Atticus Finch is portrayed in Harper Lee’s new/old novel, Go Set a Watchman, I have a couple of things to say:
1. Get a life.
2. Maybe you should reserve your judgment until after you have actually read the book, which just came out today?
As it does for many fiction readers, To Kill a Mockingbird holds a special place in my heart. I remember exactly where I was when I first read it, how the characters came alive for me, and how I felt a strange sadness when I completed the book. I wanted the story to continue. I wanted to learn more about Scout, Jem, Atticus, and Boo Radley.
Now, in a way, the story will continue. However, I do not plan to be among the first to read Go Set a Watchman. I want to wait a while. I have no illusion that this book will be nearly as powerful as To Kill a Mockingbird. As has been reported, Harper Lee’s editor recommended that she shelve the manuscript for Go Set a Watchman, and re-work the good parts of it into a new book. That is how To Kill a Mockingbird came about. In my mind, the “sequel” released this week is more of a nostalgia trip for Lee’s legion of fans, sort of like bootlegged studio sessions of Beatles songs we all know and love. I don’t think we should expect Watchman to be in the same class as Mockingbird.
To those readers who are appalled that Atticus Finch might have some racist tendencies after all, I think they need to put his character in the context of the times. He is a white, male establishment figure in a small Alabama town in the late 1950s. He is also, at the time that Go Set a Watchman takes place, an old man. Is it really so surprising that he has some fears and reservations about the prospect of integration?
Again, I have not read the new book (and, more than likely, neither have you). I do not know how poorly Atticus is portrayed. I know I loved him in the first book, and I loved Gregory Peck’s portrayal in the movie. If it turns out that Atticus is kind of a bigot in his older age, how is that different from a mostly decent family member who has some abhorrent views we disagree with? Most of us know people like this in our families. Do we negate their better qualities and focus entirely on the negative ones? Do we shut them out of our lives? Maybe, in these uncompromising times, that is exactly what we do.
I’m going to reserve judgment until I have read the book, but people are complex. All of us have a dark and ugly side. In a way, it’s somewhat reassuring to me that Atticus Finch might have one, too.
Stephen Roth is the author of the humorous novel, A Plot for Pridemore.
Be sure to “like” his author fan page at https://www.facebook.com/StephenRothWriter