Harper Lee’s new Atticus Finch is racist; fans, critics outraged

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: Jul 13, 2015 00:51 IST
The cover of Harper Lee’s new book ‘Go Set a Watchman’.

Atticus Finch, the gentle, fair-minded and inspirational lawyer of “To Kill a Mockingbird” has changed, and grown into a segregationist in his old age, and a hateful character.

And fans of “Mockingbird”, who are eagerly awaiting its author Harper Lee’s next book “Go set a watchman” don’t like it at all. Many of them have they don’t even want to read it.

One of the most anticipated books of recent times has kicked off a storm already, ahead of its Tuesday release, after a review in The New York Times revealed Finch to be a racist.

“Shockingly, in Ms. Lee’s long-awaited novel, “Go Set a Watchman” (due out Tuesday), Atticus is a racist who once attended a (Ku Klux) Klan meeting,” the reviewer wrote.

And, he says things like “The Negroes down here are still in their childhood as a people.” And this: “Do you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theaters? Do you want them in our world?”

Response has ranged from disappointment to utter disgust. Conflicted fans wondered in tweets, and blogs and Facebook comments if they wanted to read, or know more.

Finch, who defended a black man accused of raping white woman in “Mockingbird” has been one of the most loved heroes of American literature, and an icon of liberal values.

“Watchman” has somehow knocked him off that pedestal. The book was written before “Mockingbird” at an editor’s suggestion to Lee to put the story back by 20 years.

“Mockingbird” became a huge success and a movie, with Gregory Peck playing Finch. Lee never wrote another book. And the release of “Watchman” remains mired in controversy.

And now critics and fans are dealing with a Finch gone bad.

The character is modeled on Lee’s father, Amasa Coleman Lee, who indeed was a segregationist, but in his earlier life.
He had changed later, becoming the Finch of “Mockingbird”, someone, The Wall Street Journal said, quoting his biographer Charles J Shields, she may have been proud of.

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