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So, talk to me about Atticus Finch


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Because who doesn't love this amazing fellow?

 

To be specific, a lot of you know that I read To Kill a Mockingbird this past summer and subsequently raved about it as the greatest novel I have ever read.  The night after I finished it, I rewatched the movie.  The following day, I started reading the sequel, Go Set a Watchman.  

 

Now that I've read both, I'd love to discuss these fascinating novels.  I also wanted to let @Wes B know that I read them, because it was at his recommendation that I finally did.  So thank you, Wes!  I'm very glad to have read both of them.

 

Anyway, I feel like I may have missed something in Go Set a Watchman, perhaps because of ignorance due to my young age?  The way Atticus is portrayed in the sequel is a bit of a rude awakening, to the point that I don't consider the man in that novel as the "real" Atticus Finch.  But it still left me just a tad confused.  Did he really go over to the wrong side and take the standpoint that black people are inferior to whites?  Or was he just associating with racist people to try to stop them?  What was the deal with such a character switch?  It almost seems like that goes against one of our writerly rules, namely, don't make your character do anything out of character, lest you anger the reader.  I think that's what I still don't understand and would appreciate some clarification on.

 

Barring that, let's also talk about and appreciate the "real" Atticus Finch, one of the greatest literary characters ever penned!

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Before I start, please note, I haven't read the sequel, I haven't watched the movie in 1-2 decades, and I was still in grade school when I read the book.

 

BUT I grew up in the 50s-70s, became conservative in the early 1970's, have conservative-leaning family in the South, and recently learned what the southern conservatives, including the Christian church, (and I only capitalize "Christian" when I mean born-again Christians, not ethnically-born christians), did to Blacks in my lifetime. ("Black" is not an insult to me anymore than "White" is, considering not all Whites are Europeans, nor are all Blacks African.) But, yeah, I can see how Atticus became that without changing who he was.

 

My denominations, (aka Presbyterians), divided a while after the Civil War. Do understand, not before, during, or a shortly after the Civil War. A decade or two after, so the children of the Civil War era people were then the decision-making grownups. And why? Because half our denomination did not think Blacks were equal to white, and should not belong in white churches. The scary part is the side that thought Blacks were inferior included quite a few churches in the Midlantic States. (I'm from the Midlantic states, so never checked into what Ne England or western states thought.) They were Christians with that flaw.

 

Something like John Newton, (the man who wrote Amazing Grace), who went from captain of a slave ship, (after becoming a believer), and turning into an abolitionist a short 20 years later. God changes us, but sometimes it's slow and sometimes he drags us.

And you know how the South went from Democrat to Republican? It did; however, the Republicans, (Christian or not), had tunnel vision about the same thing -- voting rights for (against) Blacks. Jim Crow laws. And the Yankee Republicans accepted it to get the majority in Congressional votes. This kept going until I was an adult and married. It didn't change until Ronald Reagan was president. (I don't know how it changed then, so I'm not crediting him for changing a party's decision. It somehow involved "The Silent Majority," albeit I don't trust that group either. And I was part of "that group.")

Imagine living in the heart of the area that thought Blacks were less. Imagine living through Jim Crow laws. If that's all anyone ever thought, how do you learn that it is wrong/a lie/evil/stupid?

 

My grandmother was a sweet, wonderful, Christian woman. Not the kind of sweet that lets you get away with something. The kind of sweet that would correct you lovingly. She was born and raised in upstate New York in the beginning of the 20th century. She never had a mean thing to say about anyone. One of her sons married a widow with four girls and one of the girls was about to marry a Black man. Gram still never said anything mean to anyone. (She was in her late 80's by then.) The man and woman never knew what Gram thought. But Gram told me they shouldn't marry because Black genes were incompatible with White genes. When they had kids there would be something wrong with the children's health. She wasn't being mean. It's what she was taught and she never questioned it. Why would she? I didn't question "dinosaurs don't have feathers" until the 1990's.

Atticus wasn't being mean. He thought Blacks deserved a fair trail. Not the same thing as they should be accepted into Whites culture.

Sounds like Atticus was a forward thinking man of his time, but he was a man of his time.

 

Could that be it? (Because I get how life around me changes before I realize it ought to change.)

 

 

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Historical context is key, and a major thing that should be discussed in this, whether they were Christian or not,  is that the SCIENTIFIC CONSENSUS (sorry for the all caps, but so many people put their faith in the so-called "scientific consensus" that it is blinding...) of the time was that white people were, in fact, superior, and it was touted  and championed by none-other than the major academia of the day. Same for the eugenics movement, which arose around the same time. This went all the way from before Darwin's time all the way to the Civil rights movement. (or perhaps a bit past that...). Actually, the change probably had a lot to do with Hitler. Nothing quite kills a bad idea than to see the terrible consequences that logically comes from the bad idea (ie. the aryan race). 

 

So many people point at Christians and say, Look, look! They were racist! They defended slavery in the churches, etc. Yes, and there are hooligan churches today too, churches that protest military funerals and promote violence and also those who promote white hate or black hate and those who promote abortion and other such immoral things, but that is perhaps a different can of worms we don't need to get into. My point is that it is not fair to blame Christianity for slavery back then any more than it is fair to blame the Christianity for the propagation of abortion today. Do many churches today condone abortion? Sadly yes, but is that indicative of all churches or even most churches today? I sure hope not. In the same way, I believe we can see the church back then and Christians as, rightfully so, the ones who put an end to slavery and later on to put an end to jim crow laws and racial superiority. But perhaps I'm preaching to the choir here... I will try to get off my soap-box. 

 

Too many times churches get wrapped up in cultural "truths" and scientific consensus. For example, how many Christians believe in evolution because that is the "overwhelming" scientific consensus? In fact, there is a major group of Christians who believe that God used evolution to create the world - despite certain inconsistencies in the Genesis narrative as well as contradictions with God's character... but again, perhaps another can of worms we should leave alone for now... 

 

So, given the context of the times, it doesn't quite surprise me that Atticus Finch doesn't support equality among races in the second book - scientific consensus, but it would be an interesting case study to look into why the books were written the way they were and what the author truly felt about the issue of racism... 

 

 

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With Go Set a Watchman, I was mostly confused by the sudden shift in style. And how casually they start the story with the way Scout and Jem turned out. Didn't seem right to me.

 

So I totally buy the theory that it was actually a previous draft of To Kill a Mockingbird. Wikipedia says, "Although initially promoted as a sequel by its publisher, it is now accepted as being a first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird with many passages being used again."

 

There's a link showing huge chunks of the writing being reused, it's very interesting to look into.

 

I really like the finalized version of Atticus much better, as well as the writing and plot. (TL;DR, I really didn't like GSaW and am glad she polished it to become TKaM).

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On 10/3/2021 at 4:56 PM, Spaulding said:

Atticus wasn't being mean. He thought Blacks deserved a fair trail. Not the same thing as they should be accepted into Whites culture.

Sounds like Atticus was a forward thinking man of his time, but he was a man of his time.

That makes sense!  Thank you for contributing your thoughts, @Spaulding!  I appreciate your detailed response.

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On 10/3/2021 at 6:42 PM, Jared Williams said:

So, given the context of the times, it doesn't quite surprise me that Atticus Finch doesn't support equality among races in the second book - scientific consensus, but it would be an interesting case study to look into why the books were written the way they were and what the author truly felt about the issue of racism... 

Thank you as well, for a very interesting and well thought out reply.  It would definitely be interesting for me to look into some of Harper Lee's personal views on the matter.

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Here's a link about the origin of the name, Atticus:  https://www.behindthename.com/name/atticus

 

Another reference (which I can't find at the moment) explained that back in the ancient region of Attica, which contained Athens, those who had a long lineage in the region used "from Attica" as a reference to tout that they were not foreigners, aliens--outsiders.    That seems an accidental and haunting affirmation of the severe repression that many felt in years past in the segregated U.S. and other places. 

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On 10/3/2021 at 11:28 PM, JosiAtara said:

So I totally buy the theory that it was actually a previous draft of To Kill a Mockingbird. Wikipedia says, "Although initially promoted as a sequel by its publisher, it is now accepted as being a first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird with many passages being used again."

 

There's a link showing huge chunks of the writing being reused, it's very interesting to look into.

Yeah, I read that too, and I can definitely see that.  I even vaguely recognized some of the reused writing while I was reading Go Set a Watchman.

 

On 10/3/2021 at 11:28 PM, JosiAtara said:

 

I really like the finalized version of Atticus much better, as well as the writing and plot. (TL;DR, I really didn't like GSaW and am glad she polished it to become TKaM).

Hear, hear!  I didn't totally hate the sequel, though, it more just confused me, maybe slightly annoyed me, but caused me to think about it more.  To Kill a Mockingbird is the timeless classic though, and the best novel I've ever read.

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On 10/5/2021 at 10:06 AM, Ragamuffin_John said:

Here's a link about the origin of the name, Atticus:  https://www.behindthename.com/name/atticus

 

Another reference (which I can't find at the moment) explained that back in the ancient region of Attica, which contained Athens, those who had a long lineage in the region used "from Attica" as a reference to tout that they were not foreigners, aliens--outsiders.    That seems an accidental and haunting affirmation of the severe repression that many felt in years past in the segregated U.S. and other places. 

Ooh, that's really interesting!  Thank you, @Ragamuffin_John!

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