By now, you’ve no doubt read reviews for Harper Lee’s new book, “Go Set A Watchman.” (If you haven’t, stop reading, because there will be spoilers). Two decades after Mockingbird concluded, Atticus Finch, the legend, is a bigot. The New York Times reports that Atticus attended a KKK meeting, opposes integration, and embraces Jim Crow. According to the WSJ review, Finch refers to Brown v. Board of Education as “the Supreme Court’s bid for immortality.” In the first book, a Mockingbird was killed. In the sequel, A. Finch was killed.
My views on this book somewhat resemble my views on post-enactment legislative history, although with a twist. Lee wrote Watchman years before Mockingbird. The “Atticus” she developed in Watchman–though it took place decades after the events in Mockingbird–was written first. The “Atticus” she developed in Mockingbird–thought it took place decades before the events in Watchman–was written second. As far as I am concerned, these are two different characters that bear the same name. Indeed, many of the facts from Watchman don’t match up with Mockingbird. For example, in Mockingbird one of the most pivotal moments was Tom Robinson’s conviction for rape. But in Watchman, Robinson was acquitted. These are BIG differences. The Maycomb of Mockingbird is not the Maycomb of Watchman.
Further, it is unclear if Lee ever wanted Watchman to be released. Had she been capable, perhaps she would have written the Atticus character differently. Or not. This, unfortunately, we may never know. So in short, the Atticus of Mockingbird remains as Gregory Peck famously played him. The Atticus of Watchman (which I haven’t yet read) is someone entirely different.
(I feel like I just wrote a Middle School Book Report–no doubt countless students will have to compare and contrast the two Atticuses (Attici?) for decades to come).
Update: Of late, I’ve noticed that many newspapers have started to cover social media reactions as if they are an actual story. The New York Times often embeds of random man-on-the-tweets to measure the zeitgeist. While reading such a story in the WSJ, I noticed that they embedded the tweet of some guy who included a link to the tweet I wrote about this post. This is news!
If only they included an article link to my blog, rather than a link to the tweet, I may have gotten some traffic out of it. Oh well.