By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine
Fifty-five years and forty million copies of To Kill a Mockingbird gave Atticus Finch legendary status as a hero in the literary world. To add to Atticus Finch’s fame was a Pulitzer Prize awarded his creator Harper Lee, a Hollywood movie, which he was portrayed by one of Hollywood’s greatest actors Gregory Peck. It also was nominated for 8 Oscars, winning three one of which was awarded to Peck for his portrayal of the hero Atticus Finch. This Southern Gothic was also a coming of age read for many in that it shined a light on the racial injustice suffered by many. The book and the hero are so imbedded and clearly defined in our minds and hearts as well as in our culture it could be hard to imagine life without them.
So after all this time with our minds firmly wrapped around this fine hero and the heroic deed in which he overcame the greatest of social injustices we are presented with an alternative view which many have stated they refuse to accept. Atticus Finch’s creator has decided to release her sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird which was written some years earlier but is set some twenty years after. Go Set a Watchman depicts our hero as a KKK member and segregationist.
In Go Set a Watchman we see the dark side of our hero. Many have voiced their feelings on social media. Some harsh statements have been made referring to Atticus Finch as a racist. Some have said it is like discovering there isn’t a Santa Clause or Easter Bunny. Twitter is all a twit! Our great Saint is now revealed as a demon. What a turn?
Go Set a Watchman may be as shocking to us today as the idea behind To Kill a Mockingbird was in 1960. Atticus Finch is seen as a complicated individual, serving his personal beliefs as well as his civil and moral obligations even though they are in direct conflict. There are two sides to every individual. From David and Solomon to the present day politicians, sports figures or celebrities we have seen both good and bad. Atticus Finch is no different.
So what do we do? We do what is hoped we will do. We first update ourselves on To Kill a Mockingbird. In recent days sales have increased 73%. We then buy the sequel! If we are lucky we will be able to get our hands on one of the first 2 million in print. We read Go Set a Watchman to find for ourselves what all the fuss is about. We read it to discover the rest of the story of Atticus Finch as told by his daughter Scout. We read it to follow the works of a great author.
Will it change our minds and hearts about our great hero? Will you cry, “Atticus Finch, say it ain’t so?” I would like to hear from you afterwards.