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Sunday, 12 July 2015

'Go Set A Watchman' and Atticus Finch (contains spoilers)

WARNING: Contains spoilers for the soon to be released 'Go Set A Watchman' by Harper Lee.

I start this post by saying that Atticus Finch is my favourite literary character of all time. I first read 'To Kill A Mockingbird' at school many years ago and it had a profound effect on me. I still use quotes from it to this day, so to say that I've been incredibly nervous about this 'newly discovered' novel by Harper Lee would be an understatement. And from what I've been hearing over the last couple of days, it would appear that I have every reason to feel nervous.

However, I plan to reserve judgement until after I've read the whole book, not just little snippets here and there, or reviews from people who are focussing on the one undeniable fact that somewhere along the way Atticus Finch has become a racist.

As I said at the start of this post, Atticus Finch is my all time favourite literary character. That doesn't mean, however, that I think he is this perfect, flawless character that many people believe him to be. Like we all are, I expect him to be a flawed human being who I'm not always going to agree with. Am I shocked by this turn of events? Yes, I am. But will I allow this new information about a character I've loved for so many years sway me from reading 'Go Set A Watchman'? No, I won't.

I may decide after reading the book that I wish it had never been found and published, but I'm hoping that the woman who gave us 'To Kill A Mockingbird' will have written another thought-provoking novel that, even though it may not be the story (or the Atticus Finch) we hoped it would be, will still keep us talking for many years to come.

I have faith that the Jean Louise Finch of this book will be the forward thinking young woman we all hoped she would be from 'To Kill A Mockingbird'. She will be the voice of the future, while Atticus Finch may very well be a fading voice from the past, with attitudes that so many older people from that time possessed.

In 'To Kill A Mockingbird' we see Atticus through the eyes of a young child, whereas here we will see that the idealistic view Scout (and the reader) had of her father is not the man he really is. Instead, what we have is a flawed Atticus Finch. Yes, he still possesses many of the qualities we thought he did, but he also has thoughts and feelings about race and segregation that will shock us to our very core. And this is the dilemma the grownup Jean Louise Finch will have to face in this new novel. She will feel betrayed by Atticus and so will we, but I'm interested in seeing how the story unfolds and what effect this will have on both Scout and Atticus.

This will most likely not be the book I thought it would be, but that doesn't necessarily mean it will be a bad book either. Just different. And at this moment in time...I think I'm okay with that. This time next week after I've read it? Well, that may be a completely different story. But I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.                

As an aside, I think it's important to remember that 'Go Set A Watchman' was actually written before 'To Kill A Mockingbird' and that Atticus Finch was apparently based on Harper Lee's father, who held extremely racist views (as did many white people of that time) for many years. The young Harper Lee fought against these attitudes, much like the Jean Louise Finch of the book. This led to them having a very volatile relationship, however, by the time 'To Kill A Mockingbird' was completed Harper's father had thankfully changed his long held beliefs and was much more like the Atticus we know and love from the book and movie. Make of that what you will.

'Go Set A Watchman' will be published on July 14th 2015.

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