Is Atticus Finch, The Great American Hero From “To kill a Mockingbird” -a racist?

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16th July 2015

People all over the world were ecstatic when they learned that a Harper Lee novel has been salvaged from the dusts of time and that the classic “ To kill a mockingbird” was getting a sequel after almost 50 years but now that the sequel has been released and has literally broke all the record and becoming bestseller on amazon and all other online and physical stores, the book has  managed to give its ardent fans yet another shock.

The heroic lawyer from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird who has been synonymous with fairness gets a bad makeover in the sequel, Go Set a Watchman where he is exposed as a racist

The popularity of the character, Atticus Finch was so much that the name Atticus topped the 2011 list of baby names inspired by characters in novels – ahead of Darcy, Holden and Gatsby but now the same star is losing its popularity and fan following.

The reviews and response of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman has been one of dismay owing majorly to the downfall of Literature’s great moral conscience. The character once voted the greatest hero of American film and literally world may in fact be a villain.

In Go Set a Watchman – written before To Kill a Mockingbird, but published 50 years after it – Atticus Finch is a racist, a bigot and a segregationist, a man who says things like “the negroes down here are still in their childhood as a people”.

Watchman opens with Jean Louise (Scout’s real name) returning home to visit Maycomb. She’s now 26 and a liberal New Yorker, by Southern standards. Meeting her at the train station is Henry Clinton, described as a “lifelong friend.” (He didn’t make the cut in Mockingbird, no big loss.) Henry, a World War II vet, pops the question 10 pages in, but Jean Louise, as independent and rebellious as ever, doesn’t think she’s in love.

Her father Atticus Finch is now 72, and corseted Aunt Alexandra is still on the scene and judging everybody. The meandering early chapters of Watchman are appealing and often funny, going down as easy as a glass of cool lemonade, even if we miss Scout’s irresistible first-person narration. (Watchman is written in the third person.)

Then Jean Louise makes a shocking discovery that turns her world and the book on its head: she finds a pamphlet on Atticus’s table called The Black Plague. Soon after she sneaks into a Maycomb County Citizens’ Council meeting, where a man named Grady O’Hanlon spews appalling anti-black vitriol. Henry and Atticus, council members, listen passively.

Jean Louise is made physically ill by what she hears. Is Atticus Finch, the noble hero of To Kill a Mockingbird, a racist?

Watchman is the story of a young adult wrestling with hard truths about her family and her hometown, but it’s distressing to see the great, saintly Atticus diminished.

For the millions who hold the novel dear, Go Set a Watchman will be a test of their tolerance and capacity for forgiveness.

At the peak of her outrage, Jean Louise (in the book ) tells her father, ‘You’ve cheated me in a way that’s inexpressible’. It is not doubtful that many who will read this novel are going to feel the same way.

Publisher Harper Collins has issued a statement stressing that Lee “wanted to have the novel published exactly as it was written, without editorial intervention”.

“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,” their statement said.

The character of Atticus Finch, the widower and smalltown lawyer who defends a black man wrongly accused of rape, became an iconic figure after the publication of To Kill A Mockingbird in 1960 – an image cemented by Gregory Peck’s portrayal in the 1962 film adaptation.

In Go Set a Watchman, however, the 70-something Atticus asks his daughter Jean Louise: “Do you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theaters? Do you want them in our world?”

“This is the conflict of the novel, Jean Louise’s struggle to come to some accommodation with a father who is not who she believed he was,” writes David L Ulin in the Los Angeles Times.

Meanwhile while the crowd feuds or mourns over the character Atticus Finch Below are a few iconic quotes from the character

Source: Guardian, BBC, USA Today, WIkipedia

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