Let’s play a game called What’s Wrong With This Picture.
Atticus Quotes from To Kill A Mockingbird
“Scout,” said Atticus, “nigger-lover is just one of those terms that don’t mean anything—like snot-nose. It’s hard to explain—ignorant, trashy people use it when they think somebody’s favoring Negroes over and above themselves. It’s slipped into usage with some people like ourselves, when they want a common, ugly term to label somebody.”
“You aren’t really a nigger-lover, then, are you?”
“I certainly am. I do my best to love everybody… I’m hard put, sometimes—baby, it’s never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you.”
Atticus from Go Find a Watchman
“Then let’s put this on a practical basis right now. Do you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theaters? Do you want them in our world?”
“They’re people, aren’t they? We were quite willing to import them when they made money for us.”
“Do you want your children going to a school that’s been dragged down to accommodate Negro children?”
“Atticus, I’m getting out of this place fast, I don’t know where I’m going but I’m going. I never want to see another Finch or hear of one as long as I live!”
“As you please.”
“You double-dealing, ring-tailed old son of a bitch! You just sit there and say ‘As you please’ when you’ve knocked me down and stomped on me and spat on me, you just sit there and say ‘As you please’ when everything I ever loved in this world –you just sit there and say ‘As you please’–you love me! You son of a bitch!”
“That’ll do, Jean Louise.”
That’ll do, Harper Lee. In a time when the South is struggling to overcome a few ignorant racists, this long-awaited sequel could not have come at a worse time. I’ll never understand what Lee was thinking when she assassinated Atticus Finch’s character so.
But enough of the moral hand-wringing. I want to talk about character development.
As a writer, it’s important to maintain consistency of character. If a character is a moral compass in one book, and inexplicably becomes a villain in the next, this is simply bad writing. It doesn’t matter if it’s dressed up in pretty bows–it is more than sloppy–it’s damaging. There are no clues in To Kill a Mockingbird that suggest to us that Atticus is not who he seems. Even considering Scout’s childish point of view doesn’t explain it–she’s writing from an adult view looking back at the past.
What other explanation do we have? Was Scout somehow too slow to catch on to her father’s true character? I don’t think so. She’s sharp enough to spar with Atticus, quoting constitutional law with her daddy.
Atticus, don’t worry. I’m going to pretend this second book NEVER HAPPENED.
Harper Lee, you’ve broken my heart, and I wish I knew why.