Does Harper Lee’s Last Book Turn Atticus Finch into a Racist?

Harper Lee’s last book destroys Atticus Finch, the beloved character from ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’.

3 min read
A screengrab from <i>To Kill a Mocking Bird </i>starring Gregory Peck (R) as Atticus Finch. The film was based on the Harper Lee’s book with the same title.

On 14 July 2015, Harper Lee published Go Set a Watchman, 55 years after she came out with To Kill a Mockingbird. The Quint reposts this article, involving her last published piece of work, from its archives, on Lee’s 95th birth anniversary.

Fifty-seven years after To Kill a Mocking Bird, fans of Harper Lee’s masterpiece can now find some of their favourite characters in her new book. There’s Scout, the young narrator of To Kill a Mocking Bird and of course, her father Atticus Finch, quite literally, my hero.

Go Set a Watchman was actually written first by Lee and is set in the 1950s in America’s deep south, but her publisher asked her to rework the manuscript and the result was To Kill... one of the greatest coming-of-age novel’s of the 20th century.

Does Harper Lee’s Last Book Turn Atticus Finch into a Racist?

The Wall Street Journal put out the first chapter of the new book, which features a grown up Scout going back to her hometown in Alabama from New York. It’s well written, if a little rambling, but as someone who grew up with Scout and Jem and Atticus, I couldn’t wait for more.

Then I read the review of the book in the New York Times. Now, I won’t read Go Set a Watchman if you paid me.

The book, it seems, has destroyed the character that gave me the archetype of a good person.


Maryada Purushottam Atticus

In his new avatar, Atticus is a racist, who opposes the Civil Rights Movement and desegregation. He even attends Ku Klux Klan meetings.

I grew up with the old Atticus and this news was devastating. Atticus is everything I have wanted to be since I first read To Kill a Mocking Bird when I was 12.

Does Harper Lee’s Last Book Turn Atticus Finch into a Racist?

In the first book, he is a competent lawyer who takes on the hopeless case of a young black man wrongly accused of raping a white girl.

Exceedingly fair, just, intelligent, patient, liberal and yes, political. He is eloquent without being abrasive, he is the best shot in town but hardly ever picks up a gun. He fights prejudice, but deals with even the most bigoted people with empathy.

He also deals with his children with patience and understanding.

Within American culture (thanks in part, to Gregory Peck’s portrayal of him in the film based on the book) Atticus is pretty much the ideal man and father.

In short, he was the ultimate liberal superhero.

And Now He’s Gone

Clearly, Harper Lee’s publishers have been keeping up with Game of Thrones. The books and the TV show excel at killing off nearly every character the audience begins to root for.

But the fall of Atticus from his pedestal is so much worse. To Kill a Mocking Bird may be a work of fiction, but it isn’t fantasy. And while Atticus’ character in the original book is layered, he is always ethical.

For my part, I am going to choose to stick with the character that keeps some idealism alive in me even today.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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