Fans react to ‘racist’ Atticus Finch

14 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Does Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman Have Company? Author’s Lawyer Says She May Have Written a Third Novel.

But decades later, an unexpected second showing of Atticus, this time in Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman” — scheduled for release Tuesday — reportedly reveals him as a racist character who has attended a Klan meeting. “You would have thought there couldn’t have been a safer name,” said Laura Wattenberg, author of “The Baby Name Wizard” and the website. “It’s an example of how a name can change its cultural meaning overnight.” According to BabyCenter, which ranks names, Atticus recently had increased in popularity.The lawyer who stumbled upon the about-to-be-published sequel to “To Kill A Mockingbird” says that Harper Lee might have written a third novel in the series.In a new piece for the Wall Street Journal, the author’s lawyer, Tonja Carter – who discovered the unedited manuscript for Watchman in a safe deposit box last year – speaks out for the first time about the controversy surrounding the novel’s publication, and she hints that there may be another unpublished book by Lee.

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. Sometimes parents are inspired to choose a celebrity name because it’s “how they (first) heard it,” Wattenberg said — not necessarily because they want to honor the celebrity. 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 example she offered is the television reality show “Teen Mom” on MTV, which has inspired names including mom Maci and son Bentley. “It’s all about the name and not the fame,” she said. “There are some warning signs,” she said. “If that celebrity is referred to as first-name only in the press, that’s a sign that, in the popular imagination, they own the name,” and a child will be saddled with the baggage. “It’s good to keep in mind how much a name is linked to a particular figure,” Wattenberg said. “If the name only came into popularity because of that one person, if it’s linked to that one person, then bad publicity toward that celebrity can really rub off on the name.”

The lawyer dropped that bombshell toward the end of her lengthy op-ed, which recounted a story that’s been repeatedly told since HarperCollins revealed that it would publish “Go Set a Watchmam,” which Lee actually wrote first only to revise into “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It was clear to us that what was in the package had not been removed since it was first mailed.” The contents appeared to be the original manuscript of Mockingbird, and Watchman itself, she writes, was sitting “underneath a stack of a significant number of pages of another typed text.” “Was it an earlier draft of Watchman, or of Mockingbird, or even, as early correspondence indicates it might be, a third book bridging the two?

She is a lifelong Harper Lee fan, and named her daughter, age 6, after the author. “A lot of people are upset about this change they didn’t see coming in his character. 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.

I think there will be more conversations about the character of Atticus and the complexity of who he is, and maybe we can transfer some of that discussion into what’s going on with race in our world today.” The Denver Public Library will have 252 copies of “Watchman,” including large-type, regular type, e-books, audio books and 11 Spanish translations. 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 this Aug. 20, 2007, file photo, author Harper Lee smiles during a ceremony honoring the four new members of the Alabama Academy of Honor at the Capitol in Montgomery, Ala. (Rob Carr, Associated Press file) The Douglas County libraries have long waiting lists, too — 405 people signed up for one of 160 hardbacks, 79 readers are on the list for large-type, and 59 listeners are anxious to hear the audio book.

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. Nobody really thought about how it would be different when told from the viewpoint of a 30-something-year-old returning to her hometown, she said. “But that change is something that many of us (who are) that age, or older, experience when we go home, and we see our parents with adult eyes.” The frenzied anticipation is fueled largely by the unique place “Mockingbird” holds in American culture: It’s beloved by millions, critically acclaimed and still relevant.

He sees it as the kind of book that “strengthened the soul of a nation.” How could “Watchman,” which is set in the 1950s and tells the story of an adult Scout Finch who returns home to the fictional town of Maycomb, live up to its predecessor? Making books available for advance reviews is usually part of the ramp-up to a title’s release, except in cases where there are big spoilers or fear that the critiques may be extremely harsh. 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.

I am just as strongly against compulsory integration. … So I would say to the NAACP and all the organizations who would compel immediate and unconditional integration ‘Go slow now. The author was assumed to be one-hit wonder by the literary world — even Lee’s longtime attorney, her older sister, thought she was done with publishing. Filmmaker Murphy recalls that when she interviewed Alice Finch Lee, who died in 2014 at 103 but was still practicing law at age 100, “She said she did not believe there were any other novels. Lee suffered a stroke in 2007 and, according to various legal documents, is partially blind, deaf and easily manipulated, prompting speculation about whether she has been a full participant in the decision to publish this book.

Dispelling rumors about her lack of well-being, Burnham said, “She’s excited about the release.” Aside from questions about how this book came to exist and why it’s taken so long to reach the public, there is the issue of taste: Will the views of a shy Southern writer in the late 1950s stand up to contemporary scrutiny? Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Vladimir Nabokov were all published after their deaths. “Invisible Man” author Ralph Ellison, who never followed up his classic with another novel, struggled for years to complete one. After his death, an untitled manuscript, which filled 27 boxes, was published in two forms: a truncated, edited version that was considered not to meet his vision and an 1,100-page version that revealed all the narrative dead ends he’d never fixed. Unlike those authors, Lee — however reclusive — is still alive, making “Watchman” unprecedented. “There’s nothing quite like this,” publisher Burnham says.

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