Ahead of ‘Watchman’ Book Release, Fans Wonder Who ‘Atticus Finch’ Really Is

14 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Go Set a Watchman’ review: Harper Lee’s followup to ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ features a racist Atticus Finch.

Dozens of readers had already joined a waitlist to check out Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman” from the Aurora Public Library before the book’s official release Tuesday morning.As a present, his wife Ruth took the Toronto high school English teacher on a trip to Monroeville, Ala., to visit the novelist’s hometown, where she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird.After reading Michiko Kakutani’s review of Harper Lee’s novel “Go Set a Watchman,” I couldn’t help but feel a sense of worry and sadness about the Atticus Finch the book holds in its pages.Revelations in a new novel that Atticus Finch — the lawyer who battles inequality in “To Kill a Mockingbird” — is a racist man in old age has put off some readers, though not enough to keep them from buying the sequel.

As a native of Alabama, I had held up Atticus in my own mind as a redemptive figure, a symbol of hope, a hero who was brave enough to fight for what is right despite the poisonous and dangerous pools of racism long associated with whites in the Deep South. So the question isn’t “Is ‘Go Set a Watchman’ a worthy sequel?” The real question is “Can ‘Mockingbird’ and Lee’s reputation survive the follow-up?” “Watchman” — the sequel — is actually the first novel Lee submitted in 1957. But her editor was fascinated with the “Mockingbird” plotline that was reflected in flashbacks, so she asked for a rewrite of the book from the perspective of the 6-year-old Scout instead of the adult one.

The 2 million orders on Amazon alone could generate $30 million in revenue for News Corp., the parent of publisher HarperCollins, said Barry Lucas, an analyst at Gabelli & Co. in Rye, New York. “You’re starting to talk about real money” with possible further printings and e-book sales, Lucas said. “You’ll see some of the impact of it in the company’s first-quarter results for September.” The impact could rival that of the “Divergent” series of young adult fiction, Lucas said. In a single quarter last year, those books helped boost profit in News Corp.’s book-publishing division by 83 percent to $53 million, minus interest, tax, depreciation and amortization. But in “Watchman,” Jean Louise returns to Maycomb, Ala., to find that her 72-year-old father is one of the racists leading the charge against Brown v.

Finch argued his way into the hearts and minds of readers as the fictional courtroom defender of Tom Robinson, the black man falsely accused of raping a white woman in “Mockingbird.” In the second book, which Lee actually wrote first, Finch’s daughter visits Alabama from New York to see her father as a bigoted attendee of a local Ku Klux Klan meeting. “My heart is breaking a little bit. HarperCollins has said that preorders for the book are the highest in the history of the publisher. “We’ve been keeping it away from the public, but we fully expect to be sold out,” said McCormack, the buyer for the store.

The book retails for $34.99 in Canada. “We usually sell at least one a week, but we’ve likely sold in the hundreds over the last few weeks,” said McCormack. “This is a book that has great nostalgia. Book publishing accounted for about a fifth of News Corp.’s revenue in the fiscal third quarter, which ended in March, and is the second-biggest segment after news and information services. Alix Hall, director of culture for the Toronto branch of theculturetrip.com, says she won’t be reading the novel. “I loved the book, and really identified with the character of Scout and trying to be a grown-up” says Hall, a former elementary schoolteacher who first read the book in Grade 10.

By the end of novel, she confronts her father directly, but he seems amused by her liberal views, likely shaped by the years she’s spent living in New York — as Lee herself did during the period. Scott Wojton, manager of the Barnes & Noble bookstore in downtown Naperville, compared the release of “Watchman” to the arrival of the final novel in the Harry Potter series. Questions have already been raised as to whether the author fully understands the circumstances surrounding the publication of a new work this late in her career. Perhaps it was hard all these years to carry around the secret that Atticus — so revered by the nation’s book lovers — was actually conceived as a proud bigot.

It is one thing to defend an individual African-American, and another thing entirely to envision the demise of what was essentially a race-based caste system in the South. As a (white) child growing up in Houston in the 1960s, I was taken to visit relatives in the rural Mississippi Delta, where I often heard adults whom I respected express opinions similar to those reported in the book. Yet I can easily imagine some of those people, like the fictional Atticus, defending Tom Robinson in the 1930s and 20 years later vehemently rejecting desegregation.

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