by Bryan Davis
In reviews I have read of Go Set a Watchman, the nearly universal interpretation seems to be that Atticus Finch is a racist in this story and that Harper Lee and her publisher have done a disservice by soiling the reputation of one of the greatest heroes in the literary world.
Not only are these reviewers wrong about Atticus Finch, they are the ones who are soiling his reputation by misinterpreting the story, its theme, and its heroic character.
In our current society, there seems to be a quickness to slap the racist label on anyone who doesn’t toe a certain “politically correct” line. Atticus Finch is not a racist, and those who give him that label completely miss the point of the book.
Harper Lee took great pains to thematically teach the opposite mindset. She chastised those who are quick to dismiss opposing viewpoints by negatively labeling their opponents without due process, that is, going beyond the superficial and learning what is really going on in someone’s mind.
In the story, Jean Louise Finch (Scout) was the foil. She was the accuser, the one labeling her father as a racist (among many other intemperate insults), and Lee’s entire point was to show how wrong Jean Louise was. She saw only the surface, the superficial evidence against Atticus, and she was too blinded and too fearful to dig further to find the truth. Jean Louise was the bigot, not Atticus.
With every evidence of racism in Atticus, there was a counter explanation that Jean Louise either couldn’t see or refused to see. Through an illustrative flashback, Ms. Lee employs sharp cunning to demonstrate Jean Louise’s blindness with regard to a completely different topic. When Scout was eleven, she began her menstrual cycle. Soon after, a boy kissed her by force and pushed his tongue into her mouth, much to her disgust. Later, an older girl tried to explain to Scout how a girl gets pregnant. The girl said that it begins with French kissing.
From that point on, Scout zoned out. She couldn’t listen to the rest of the explanation. She was certain that she was pregnant. If she had continued to listen, she likely would have heard that getting pregnant involved more than tongue contact, but her fear blinded (deafened) her to further inquiry.
She decided that she would kill herself before the baby could be born. Then one month before the baby was due (according to her ignorant calculations), and with no other evidence of being pregnant, she climbed a tower intending to jump off.
Fortunately, and unexpectedly, someone saw her and stopped her. Later, when she confessed her fears, she was corrected and understood her blindness and ignorance.
In the same way, Jean Louise saw evidence of bigotry in her father. The revelation shocked her. Fear invaded. Blindness ensued. She couldn’t explore further and find the truth. Her own terror became a crippling handicap. Later, she climbed the proverbial suicide tower and exploded at her father with all sorts of insults, and he absorbed them with patience and tender answers.
SOURCE: The Author’s Chair
Bryan Davis is the author of several best-selling fantasy/adventure series, including Dragons in our Midst and Oracles of Fire. To date, he has written more than twenty novels along with various non-fiction works and children’s books with total sales reaching more than one million copies. www.daviscrossing.com