Who is Atticus Finch?

This post has been a long time coming after reading Go Set a Watchman, after a lot of thinking; it's about time I told y'all about it.

Whether you've read the book To Kill a Mockingbird or not, you will know the name Atticus Finch. Especially after recent media focus on the character based on the release of Go Set a Watchman where it would appear he was not the man we 'knew'.

Since the first time I read To Kill a Mockingbird,  Atticus has been a hero of mine and was the reason I went through a stage of wanting to be a lawyer (before I realised I wasn't intelligent enough) and was the perfect representation of justice, compassion and love.

Go Set a Watchman continues the story we all know and love and it took over 50 years for it to appear. The world and the Internet is obviously full of critics, I can be one most of the time, and I'm not lying when I say I was downright pissed when reviews and leaks started coming out slagging off the greatest man in the world of fiction. I tried as hard as I could to avoid these but when your job is essentially the Internet I couldn't go a day during the week before the release date without seeing 'name and shame' headlines (I'm looking at you Buzzfeed) and fury on Twitter. Thanks guys.

After seeing these, I made the decision to not read a single article and to not dwell on the things I had seen and heard so that I would go into it with an open mind. Even a friend of mine said 'it sounds awful, don't read it' because she knows how much To Kill a Mockingbird means to me and to her. But I did it anyway.

As I was reading the book, I tried very hard to not let these cloud my judgement and it was so difficult. The idea of my human rights hero being a racist just kept whizzing around my head and I constantly dreaded the moment it would happen with each turn of the page. i mean, this is Atticus Finch! There is no way on Earth this man could be a racist.

But then it happened.

And I started crying.

Not your standard crying though, the kind of silent tears that you normally associate with heartbreak. It was right at this moment that my boyfriend decided to call me to ask me how the book was going and, with a broken voice, all I could say was 'I can't talk about it right now'. Hang up and cue hysterical sobbing. It felt like something had died. I started to think that maybe my friend had been right.

Being the stubborn book reader I am, I powered through and finished it that day. A LOT of thinking commenced and every time someone asked me what I thought of the book, my answer was always 'I don't know yet'.

I have now decided that the idea of Atticus being a racist could be down to either misinterpretation or a misunderstanding of the time period. We're talking about 1950s South America here and we know from history that it wasn't exactly the most tolerant place or time. I see Atticus as a figure of authority in Maycomb and unfortunately he has been put into a position where he has to side with the masses to prevent uproar, outrage and even dangerous hostility.

I know that some people may argue the point that he should have fought back and stood up for the same equality and human rights he fought for all those years ago in that courtroom with his children watching in the wings.

* Best version of the speech I could find*
I have based my opinion on the following quote:

"I'm only trying to make you see beyond men's acts to their motives. A man can appear to be a part of something not-so-good on it's face, but don't take it upon yourself to judge him unless you know his motives as well. A man can be boiling inside, but he knows a mild answer works better than showing his rage. A man can condemn his enemies, but he's wiser to know them... Have you considered that men, especially men, must conform to the demands of the community they live in simply so they can be of service to it?"

In this instance, Atticus and Hank have done what is expected of them whether it holds true to their personal beliefs or not. Following Scout’s (or 'Jean Louise' now) confrontation with Atticus over what she had witnessed and that horrible, harrowing speech Atticus had done nothing about, he argues that he did not want the man to speak in the first place.

He ends with "are you sure Scout?", he is exasperated, he is old and frail and he simply can’t fight anymore. That’s my thinking anyway.

no title
Some people have previously argued that To Kill a Mockingbird shows the idealised version of Atticus from his child’s eyes. I mean, who doesn’t think of their father as a hero when they’re young? The third person perspective of Go Set a Watchman smacks reality in the faces of a previously loving audience. This could be true but at the same time we have to think of all those things he said to Scout during the build up of the trial that she even mentions in Go Set a Watchman as things she had always remembered about her childhood and father. Things we have always remembered and things I always will.

I have come to the conclusion that Go Set a Watchman should be treated as  separate from To Kill a Mockingbird. I do not believe that it’s ‘the first draft’ despite being presented to publishers first, it’s an entirely different story. Obviously it’s not as good as To Kill a Mockingbird but then again, nothing ever will be.  To Kill a Mockingbird introduced those of us who were born ‘colour blind’, as Scout says,  to a world we will never understand but also a world were the first steps of justice through race and equality were taken in fiction. I’m not saying you shouldn’t avoid Go Set a Watchman, it’s definitely worth a read but do as I have and consider it as separate. If ever you feel your opinion of Atticus has been tarnished, always look back on the following quote and remember him for the man he truly is.

Scout: "You're not really a nigger lover, then, are you?"

Atticus: "I most certainly am. I do my best to love everybody... I'm hard put, sometimes - baby, it's never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is. It doesn't hurt you."

1 comment

  1. Such an interesting read - I read To Kill A Mockingbird years ago and still haven't got round to reading Go Set A Watchman - feel like I need to wait for the hype to die down and come back to it in a few months! x


Your comments make me smile :-)