National Law Journal on Atticus in “Go Set A Watchman”

July 27th, 2015

The National Law Journal asked several LawProfs for their reactions to the “Atticus” in Go Set a Watchman. Here are my (brief) quotes:

“How many of us would stare down a lynch mob to protect their client? Would you be willing to risk your life for a client?”

“I think we should read [‘Watchman’] on it s own and not let it sully Atticus Finch as a character.”

Also, George Mason LawProf Michael Krauss–who taught me about the triumph and failings of Atticus in To Kill A Mockingbird–offers this remark:

“He’s a classic hero. He’s a father. He’s a defender of the weak. He does work for barter for the poor. He believes absolutely in integrity.”

You can read my extended comments on GSAW here and here.

Update: Karen Sloan wrote a second piece at NLJ that quotes Michael and me at some greater length:

Michael Krauss, who discusses Finch in his legal ethics courses at George Mason University School of Law, decided not to read “Watchman” because of unfavorable reviews. “To me, it’s irrelevant. I get everything about the practice of law — about good, about evil, about the importance of truth — I get it all in this marvelous book,” he said referencing “Mockingbird.” Krauss never viewed “Mockingbird”‘s Finch as the perfect lawyer — the character’s focus on the truth perhaps doomed his client in court. “Atticus wanted to use [his client] Tom Robinson’s case to teach Maycomb a lesson about its racism — to show Maycomb in its heart what it really was, and he succeeded,” Krauss said. “But is that one’s duty to one’s client?”

Josh Blackman, a constitutional law professor at the South Texas College of Law, read the pages of “Watchman” in which Jean Louise and Finch discuss their reactions to Brown v. Board of Education, but was discouraged from finishing the book by friends who warned it would “break my heart.” He views the two Finches as utterly distinct, citing factual discrepancies between the novels, as when Robinson — found guilty in “Mockingbird” — wins acquittal in a brief flashback in “Watchman.”

“People are sensitive to these kinds of things, and it’s not inconceivable that they will punish this fictional character for these subsequent actions,” Blackman said. “If I get a vote, judge Atticus Finch by ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ The Atticus Finch in ‘Go Set a Watchman’ is a different character with the same name.”

Still, “Watchman” accurately captures the way many people viewed school segregation at the time, Blackman said. Jean Louise and Atticus agree that the Supreme Court bulldozed over states’ rights — although Jean Louise also says the court “had to do it.”

“There was a fairly popular thought back then that integration will take its own time and course and that you can’t force it,” Blackman said. “It’s foreign to people today, but it’s not irreconcilable that you could be in favor of equality of the races, but on its own time.”