Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Atticus Finch Will Always be my Hero

Like Scout Finch, the south was my girlhood home. Sultry hot summers. Drippy heat. The still air. The drone of cicadas. And it was in the south that I first met Scout and her father, Atticus. In my high school English class we read To Kill a Mockingbird. Though we were set decades apart from the characters in the book, our weekly readings, discussions and papers wove a kinship between us and the Finch family that felt comfortable, like home. Despite the impending dangers we felt safe, because of loved ones near us who we came to trust more and more as we turned each page.  This was a coming of age story for us as well as Scout and Jem. Crossing the bridge away from childhood innocence due to the turmoil against which Atticus stoically stood as the voice of reason and morality bonded us all in kinship with the Finch family.

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Through the journey, the static character of Atticus stoically stood as the voice of reason. We could always look to him for guidance in the uncertain world. Unwaveringly he quietly lived his life as an example to his children and the town during a time of prejudice of how one should treat others as fellow human beings despite any differences. Neighborly compassion, friendship, and service spoke loudly through actions, and sometimes in words.


"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view." (Atticus to Scout, p30)


Sometimes others spoke for Atticus, due to deep respect for the man they had known for years, especially when he was too humble to speak of himself.

"Your father's right," she said. "Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird." (Miss Maudie to Scout, p90)

After shooting down a rabid dog with one shot...

"If your father's anything, he's civilized in his heart. Marksmanship's a gift of God, a talent...I think maybe he put his gun down when he realized that God had given him an unfair advantage over most living things. I guess he decided he wouldn't shoot till he had to, and he had to today."
"Looks like he'd be proud of it," I said.
"People in their right minds never take pride in their talents," said Miss Maudie. (p98)

While sharing about Tom Robinson, an African American accused of rape, which is only a delicate topic for such a young girl who has overhead a bit too much from an incensed town because her father has agreed to provide legal counsel for Tom Robinson, a symbol for a mockingbird in the story... 

"Scout," said Atticus, "when summer comes you'll have to keep your head about far worse things...it's not fair for you and Jem, I know that, but sometimes we have to make the best of things, and the way we conduct ourselves when the chips are down-well, all I can say is, when you and Jem are grown, maybe you'll look back on this with some compassion and some feeling that I didn't let you down. This case, Tom Robinson's case, is something that goes to the essence of a man's conscience-Scout, I couldn't go to church and worship God if I didn't try to help that man."
"Atticus, you must be wrong..."
"How's that?"
"Well, most folks seem to think they're right and you're wrong..."
"They're certainly entitled to think that, and they're entitled to full respect for their opinions," said Atticus, "but before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience." (pp104-105)

"...I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand." (Atticus to Jem, p112)   

Then at Tom Robinson's trial...

Someone was punching me, but I was reluctant to take my eyes from the people below us, and from the image of Atticus' lonely walk down the aisle.
"Miss Jean Louise?"
I looked around. They were standing. All around us and in the balcony on the opposite wall, the Negroes were getting to their feet. Reverend Syke's voice was as distant as Judge Taylor's.
"Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father's passin'." (211)

Not only did I read this masterful book in high school, but my kids also read it as part of our homeschool literature studies in high school. Our high school discussions have continued in the past few months because of some recent events...

Last winter it was announced that Harper Lee had another book called Go Set a Watchman set to be published and available in July of 2015. According to this article I read, To Kill a Mockingbird was meant to be a trilogy and Go Set a Watchman was book 3 in the series, with To Kill a Mockingbird being book 1.  I was a bit confused by this because To Kill a Mockingbird is a complete story on its own.  Sequels, much less trilogies, don't always succeed, often proving to be lackluster and even sometimes dulling the shine of the original piece/production.

In Feb 2015 slate.com posted this article, "Atticus Finch is my Law Students' Hero: We Need Him More than Ever" written by Thane Rosenbaum.  This article anticipated the furtherance of Atticus' greatness in the soon to be published book...

"its protagonist, Atticus Finch, ended up becoming even more famous than the novel itself...." (Thane Rosenbaum)

"If there were a Mount Rushmore for American fiction, Atticus Finch would surely be on it..." (Thane Rosenbaum)

"Atticus Finch’s return to the public’s consciousness comes at a prescient moment. In Go Set a Watchman, he may be older and perhaps no longer the eagle-eyed “One-Shot” he once was. Yet, with our institutions failing, Atticus is a welcome sight. If nothing else, this fortuitous sequel to Harper Lee’s masterpiece will remind readers how a fictional character has, often uneasily, influenced the moral development of a nation, and may do so again. " (Thane Rosenbaum)

Or...maybe not.

Imagine my shock on Saturday when my facebook newsfeed showed a post by Eric Metaxas (A man I definitely listen to.) He posted this picture of a 19th century sailor rowing a boat at sea with a bizarre caption. It was a brilliant use of the bizarre to prove a point.

I quickly did a google search and in shock I found this article from the New York Times,  "Review: Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman Gives Atticus Finch a Darkside." The Atticus Finch of Go Set a Watchman is a racist who embodies everything that deeply angered us with the prejudiced townsfolk of To Kill a Mockingbird. Quotes from Atticus in this article make me sick. I can neither bear to read those words from Atticus nor about Atticus. I cannot read this book. I cannot have my image of Atticus tainted. Atticus cannot be both bigot and hero. They do not coexist. Nor do static characters change in the literary world, because they drive the plot and hold the theme together. What happened?

The article goes on to explain that Go Set a Watchman is actually the first manuscript that Lee submitted to her publisher in 1957. The manuscript was rejected. However her editor suggested she rewrite the story from Scout's point of view when she is a little girl. Two years later (and from what I read elsewhere over 200 rewrites later) a masterpiece was born!

The article goes on to say that the familiar "lyricism" is lost in Go Set a Watchman. Of course. Go Set a Watchman is a rough draft, that had been rejected by the publisher. First drafts are rarely good by any author. Literary technique (ie. regionalism, coming to age, static character) have not been fine tuned. Mega rewrites are required to produce brilliance. It's the nature of the craft.

Later Eric Metaxas posted another article appropriately titled, "To Kill a Story," from the blog, News From a Country we Have Never Yet Visited. The blogger writes, "Southern folks are not known for many things, but we are good at stubborn, fierce loyalty, and we will band together to flatly ignore anyone who slanders our heroes, even if the voice of calumny is the same one who gave us that hero in the first place."  Obviously I'm one of those fiercely loyal Southern folk!

I highly recommend reading her blog because it clearly sets forth what this book is and what it is not. For one, it is not a sequel. It is a rough draft of the first book that was later deeply revised. She further expands on that.

This blogger clearly understands literary technique. She even asserts that for this storyline to have two radically different versions is unique in the literary world. I agree, because it was not meant to be a separate book. It was a rejected first draft.
The blogger also proclaims, and rightfully so, that Harper Lee gave us a gift in precocious Scout,  heroic Atticus and gentle Boo. Boo Radley was the whisper of the wind who simply, quietly  and beautifully symbolized that it was a sin to kill a mockingbird. I submit that to consider Atticus Finch as anything other than the hero that Harper Lee gave to us would indeed be heartbreaking. After all, it is indeed a sin to kill a mockingbird.    

2 comments:

  1. I bought the Watchman book on my Kindle that day it was released. I have no preconceived notions of expecting it to be a continuation of Mockingbird, rather as another story written by Harper Lee. I've read some later released books that were written by some of my favorite authors but under another name, and then released again with theirs. Some are good, some not. But it still has the feel of my favorite authors, and something that they wrote. You also get to witness their growth as authors to where they are today.
    I have decided to read Mockingbird again after reading the excerpts you included here that reminded me of its voice, as it's been sooooooo long since I last read it but will always have the voice from the movie in my head as I read it.
    Val

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    1. I love the movie. It is faithful to the book. I could never read this new book. My head would never forget the bigoted Atticus and I don't want that.
      I have a first draft of Laura Ingalls Wilder's, The First Four Years. That book has a different flavor than her other books because it was never edited, yet it remains true to Laura and her stories, so I liked that.
      I have a huge pile of incredibly wonderful things to read and so little time. I'd rather spend my time on the positives. =)
      Laurie

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