Legendary writer Harper Lee found fame in the only book she ever published, To Kill A Mockingbird, where the sugarcoated, almost unrealistic, view of racism in 1930s Alabama came through the eyes of the intrepid Scout.
For decades, people clamored for more, but Lee demurred. Yet now at 89, Lee (or possibly the hangers on in her life as she fades into old age) realized what good is a legendary life if you don't destroy childhood idols and emotionally sucker punch the readers whose notions of race and compassion have been formed by your book. So, in a parting blow to all her fans, she decided to make Atticus Finch a racist in Go Set A Watchman, the sequel to To Kill A Mocking Bird.
To the unacquainted, i.e. anyone who skipped English lessons in high school, Finch is the upright lawyer fighting the case of a black Alabamian villager wrongly accused of rape in the 1930s. Not only does Finch stand up for a marginalized community when no one else would, he also likes to portray the Ku Klux Klan as a harmless group of individuals who like to wear white robes as a fashion statement. But we digress.
The sequel moves the story to the '50s and leaves a trail of heartbreaks in its way, seeing an Atticus Finch who once attended a Klan meeting and rails against desegregation. Here are some selected quotes from Finch in Go Set A Watchman that will certainly pillage your childhood:
"Do you want your children going to a school that’s been dragged down to accommodate Negro children?"
"The Negroes down here are still in their childhood as a people."
On pro-segregation councils: "a sort of warning to the Negroes for them not to be in such a hurry."
"Do you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theaters? Do you want them in our world?"
Fans of the book right now can't even...
I can’t handle that Atticus finch, the unofficial patron saint of attorneys everywhere, is now a flipping racist hater.— Kelly Kotur (@KellyKotur) July 12, 2015
My literary hero of my childhood is now a racist and I don't know if my soul can handle it. #atticusfinch— Katii(: (@katii722) July 11, 2015
Lee actually wrote Watchman before she penned Mockingbird, and it sat in a drawer ever since. (There is some speculation that people close to Lee, whose mental acuity, hearing and sight are diminishing as she ages, pushed for its publication.) But it's hard to understand how the heroic Atticus became such a different man between the two books.
Maybe Lee was trying to teach us all a lesson? The virtuous Finch was indeed an unusual man for his time. Perhaps this Atticus is a more realistic version of a complicated man. Perhaps Lee is trying to teach us a lesson about not looking at the world through a (sorry) black and white lens.
To those people we say, fine. She did have to unceremoniously kill Jem in a throwaway line in chapter one?!