Atticus Finch reimagined as racist in Mockingbird follow-up

13 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Atticus Finch is now a racist in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird Sequel.

“Go Set a Watchman” is set in the famous fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, in the mid-1950s, 20 years after ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ takes place. The reviews say that the Atticus Finch of Harper Lee’s newly released Go Set A Watchman is an aging, foul-mouthed bigot, a sharp contrast to the characters of the same name in Lee’s immortal To Kill a Mockingbird and the movie of the same title. Scout Finch, now a grown woman known by her given name Jean Louise, is visiting from New York, unsure of whether to marry a local suitor who she has known since childhood and enduring a painful contrast between her new life and the ways of her hometown.

The New York Times makes this astonishing claim: “The revelation will probably alter readers’ views of ‘Mockingbird,’ a beloved book that has sold more than 40 million copies globally and has become a staple of high school curriculums.” 1. Jem is dead of a heart attack; Dill is away in Italy; Atticus Finch has evolved into a small-town bigot who reads pamphlets on “The Black Plague” and regards “our Negro population as backward”.

Scout is no longer the tomboy we know from ‘Mockingbird’, but has transformed from an “overalled, fractious, gun-slinging creature into a reasonable facsimile of a human being.” She is “oppressed” by Maycomb, finds it petty and provincial. An initial run of 700,000 for the UK and Commonwealth, modest in comparison to the first print run of 12 million for the final Harry Potter book but impressive by the usual standards of literary fiction, is expected to be snapped up. It is not a finely written story – this reads as a ‘good’ first draft which Lee has refused to rework – yet even in its coarse state where scenes are sketchy, third-person narration shifts haphazardly and leaden lectures on the Southern States’ racial history stand-in for convincing dialogue – it is the more radical, ambitious and politicised of the two novels Lee has now published. With his driving moral force, its hero, Atticus Finch — a white lawyer who defends a wrongly accused black man in the Deep South of the Thirties — has inspired countless equality campaigners from the U.S. chat-show host Oprah Winfrey to the director of the Liberty organisation Shami Chakrabati.

While many will have ordered the hardback version, or plan to download it to their e-reader, those who prefer book shops will be left with a nervous wait to see how long stocks last. It deals with the scourge of racism in civil rights era America (found in the hearts of otherwise ‘morally upstanding’ individuals like Atticus) whose trajectory can be traced to America’s relationship with its black community today, and to the Charleston shootings. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court decision in 1954 that declared segregation in schools is “inherently unequal.” There is nervous talk of blacks holding public office, and marrying whites. However, this might all be about to change as the revered protagonist has been dramatically revealed to be a racist who once attended a white supremacist meeting.

A spokesman confirmed that teams of staff were working closely with book shops to monitor stock as soon as the tills open, poised to set the presses rolling to replenish them within days. In this sense, it has contemporary relevance where Mockingbird is safely sealed off as a piece of American history, with all the hope its ending brings for Maycomb’s growing racial tolerance. Lee’s work, found in a safe-deposit box, and came upon documents suggesting she wrote something beyond what was published in her classic “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Though Ms. Despite a huge publicity campaign and a further 2 million copies printed in the US, the publisher will be waiting eagerly for the response from fans, with early reviews revealing readers could be in for a shock. Lee thought it ‘a pretty decent effort’, but her editor — captivated by the flashbacks to Atticus’s daughter Scout’s childhood — persuaded her to write a new novel from the point of view of the young girl.

Set-text students may now look for signs in that book for Atticus – the racist apologist (when he forces young Jem to read aloud to the openly racist Mrs Dubose? Privately, he wonders why “reasonable people go stark raving mad when anything involving a Negro comes up.” “I just hope that Jem and Scout come to me for their answers instead of listening to the town. In Watchman, spoiler alert, the trial that was a side plot in the Mockingbird book and central to the film ended with a different verdict, according to reviews. Many fans have expressed their fears on social media, saying they will never read or buy the book that they believe could spoil their memories of a childhood favourite.

Having turned down interviews since 1964, she refused to write an introduction, claiming the book ‘has managed to survive the years without preamble’. It turns out that Atticus is no saint, as none of us are, but a man with prejudices,” said Charles J Shields, author of Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee.

In the end, this is the most shocking aspect of Lee’s novel, published 55 years after she was advised to discard it and focus on the children’s story instead – that we will never be able to read Mockingbird in the same way again, and never see Atticus in the same light again. Carter’s article offers her most detailed public statements about the origins of “Watchman.” Her account is unlikely to answer all the concerns of critics who have raised questions about how the book came to be published after being locked away for decades.

However, one thing is sure: her publishers must have been delighted by the discovery of the original manuscript, which Lee’s lawyer apparently stumbled across last year, with dollar signs in their eyes. Anticipating fierce resistance to the portrayal of Atticus, publisher HarperCollins issued a statement late Friday. “The question of Atticus’s racism is one of the most important and critical elements in this novel, and it should be considered in the context of the book’s broader moral themes,” the statement reads. In an industry that loves the easy money of sequels — witness Grey, the Fifty Shades Of Grey spin-off, as well as newly commissioned James Bond, Sherlock Holmes and Jeeves & Wooster books — a follow-up to such a well-loved classic must have seemed like a dream come true. She also recounts feeling like an outsider in her hometown because of her stance on civil rights: “I don’t trust myself to keep my mouth shut if I feel moved to express myself, thereon it will get out all over Monroeville that I am a member of the NAACP, which, God forbid. If he personified the intrinsic Christian goodness of the Southern white male in Mockingbird, that Southern male has turned mean, racist and small-minded, now that the Civil Rights struggle, and prospect of equality for all, is so much closer than it had been in the mid-1930s of Mockingbird.

Later, after the publication of Mockingbird in 1960, his views softened, and he started campaigning for redistricting in the county to protect disenfranchised black voters, Shields said. As the first reviews of the novel were published on Friday, some Mockingbird fans were so disheartened by the revelation that they said they were reluctant to read the new book. Redrafted, the scene would surely have been emotionally devastating in Lee’s hands, and that goes for so many of the flashback moments that could have held a far greater emotional charge, had they been worked upon. While the Atticus in Watchman appears to have a different personal history than the one in Mockingbird, the resemblance is close enough to create a literary “Uncanny Valley.” 3. It cannot match Mockingbird for its bewitching prose, its brilliance in capturing the Southern demotic, its exquisite picture of childhood play and innocence, corrupted by an adult world of race hate and injustice.

But in “A Letter to the North,” he sounds like Atticus as he considers the impact of the Supreme Court ruling. “I have been on record as opposing the forces in my native country which would keep the condition out of which this present evil and trouble has grown. The storyline is limited too, hinging on one incident – Scout’s shocking discovery that her father is not the unimpeachable moral force that she thought he was. I am just as strongly against compulsory integration. … So I would say to the NAACP and all the organisations who would compel immediate and unconditional integration ‘Go slow now. Carter’s editorial, at the 2011 bank meeting the attendees reviewed the contents of a cardboard Lord &Taylor box, which had several hundred pages of typed manuscript.

It is somewhat ironic that the hero of one of America’s favourite coming-of-age novels has forced the nation into a coming-of-age moment as it confronts this more condemning portrait of its past. She says she noticed references to a character named “Hank,” who isn’t in “Mockingbird,” but assumed the character must have appeared in an early draft. Currently, the country is riven by debate over the race issue after the shooting in South Carolina of nine black churchgoers by a 21-year-old white man. When Mockingbird came out, book and movie, America needed that kind of ideal: an honest white Southerner whose attitude toward “Negros” was beyond honorable. They have enormous and vital input into the book, but their names never appear on the cover: at best they are hidden in the author’s acknowledgements, at worst they are absent.

Famously, William Golding’s editor rescued the manuscript that would become Lord Of The Flies from the reject pile, where it lay with a covering note from a Faber & Faber reader dismissing it as ‘rubbish & dull’ and ‘pointless’.

Here you can write a commentary on the recording "Atticus Finch reimagined as racist in Mockingbird follow-up".

* Required fields
All the reviews are moderated.
Our partners
Follow us
Contact us
Our contacts

About this site