Will real Atticus stand up?
Published 11:16 am Thursday, July 16, 2015
“Sequel reveals dark side of Atticus Finch.” “New book portrays Atticus Finch as a racist.” “Atticus Finch fans on Twitter aghast.”
Those are some of the headlines spawned by the arrival of “Go Set A Watchman,” the long-unexpected sequel to Harper Lee’s 1960 Pulitzer-winning novel “To Kill A Mockingbird.”
The revelation of the heroic small-town attorney as a segregationist is not the only complication about the novel. Yes, it’s a sequel in that it’s set 20 years after the other book; but it was really written first (1957), rejected by the publisher and completely reconfigured (with a different time period and Scout’s first-person narration) to give us the familiar “Mockingbird.”
Yes, it’s about as confusing as the order of the nine “Star Wars” films. And, as a recently published graphic novel proves, George Lucas’s original idea for “The Star Wars” was vastly different from the finished product. Luckily, the Harper Lee/Star Wars connection ends there, or we would have Yoda telling the townspeople of Maycomb, “There is no ‘try’ — there is only Boo or not Boo.”
Some diehard “Mockingbird” fans are vowing not to crack open “Watchman.” (Sort of like my classmates, once they realized “To Kill A Mockingbird” was short on camouflage gear and hollow-point ammunition.)
Others cheer the fact that Atticus is “now” not so blandly heroic, but rather a richer and more fascinating character. Of course this will make some people take the wrong message from the book. (“Sure, I hog handicapped parking places, share my flatulence proudly and keep hitting on my sister-in-law. But I’m not bad — I’m just nuanced.”)
Some of the myriad newspaper articles about the “new” book focus on the reaction of the people who were named for Atticus because of the 1960 “Mockingbird” (and even more the 1962 Oscar-winning film starring Gregory Peck). At least we won’t have to worry about people being saddled with the names of movie stars and main characters in the future; progressive presidential candidate Bernie Sanders will stick it to the one-percenters by making sure that babies are instead named for motion picture “key grips,” “gaffers” and “best boys.”
We do get attached to our fictional characters, don’t we? (Though none so much as “the one I should have married.” You know, “He would do a rain dance, create a puddle and then throw his cape down for me like Sir Walter Raleigh! But no, I had to marry you!”)
Now that Atticus has “jumped the shark” and changed so much, readers are nervously wondering what other literary icons will be the victim of a long-lost manuscript. Is there a version of “Charlotte’s Web” wherein Charlotte spells “Barbecue sure is good eatin’” in her web?
Maybe there will even be a sequel to “Watchman.” Perhaps Atticus drowns while trying to construct a big wall between the U.S. and Africa.
In the wake of recent anti-Confederacy hysteria, some activists are demanding that Atticus Finch’s grave be dug up and the bigot reinterred elsewhere. I tried explaining that Atticus is a fictional character, but they countered, “Well, maybe Gepetto could find some way to turn him into a real boy, and then when he died he could be dug up and –”
But Gepetto is also a…
*Sigh* To paraphrase Atticus, “Equal rights for all, special privileges for none, a swift kick in the rear end for over-reactors.”
Danny Tyree welcomes email responses at email@example.com and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.” Danny’s’ weekly column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. newspaper syndicate.