Will get back to the Trip shortly. Needed to air this op-ed piece first!
I always take reading material with me on any trip. This time, my paper companions were Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird, and the sequel (or pre-quell, depending on your outlook) Go Set a Watchman. I hadn’t read Mockingbird since high school, (it differs in marked ways from the outstanding film with Gregory Peck) so I thought it would be a good idea to catch up on that one before reading Watchman. Spoiler alert: there will be details, so if you haven’t read Watchman and are planning on it, you might want to stop here. Your call.
First off, Atticus Finch (as portrayed in the film by Gregory Peck) is about half of the reason I became a lawyer (the other half is a long story and for private conversation only). Atticus Finch in the film and the Atticus Finch in the book are two distinct characters. This definitely colors the take on the second book.
The media buzz on Watchman was expressed with horror that Atticus Finch, that icon of Truth, Justice and the American way, turns out to be (shudder) as bigoted as his fellow Alabamans. There is a passage in Watchman which underscores a chance remark in Mockingbird and sets the stage for the entire issue. If you read the two books in sequence, (and not the film) you will find that Atticus clearly states that the last thing in the world that he WANTS to do is defend Tom Robinson. He is defending Tom Robinson because he had no options – the judge appointed him for the defense. Being the honorable man and upright attorney that Atticus is, he will fight the good fight and provide Robinson with the best defense he can give him – not because he wants to but because he is a man of honor and believes that everyone is entitled to fair treatment in court. This is, by the way, what inspired me.
Granted, you probably wouldn’t pick the changes up if you hadn’t read Mockingbird in conjunction with Watchman. The media hype is revisionist history. Watchman is set in Alabama (rural Alabama – going to Birmingham or Mobile is going to the “big city”) in the 1950s, and the attitudes expressed clearly reflect the attitudes current in the 1950s, not the enlightened present.
Jean-Louise’s overreaction to watching her father (whom she had previously thought perfect) tumbling off the pedestal she made for him is enough to put me off “Scout” forever. Truth be told, there are many books that are what a friend of mine calls “shoebox books”, the ones the writer puts away in a shoebox after writing because they’re not good enough to submit to a publisher, or maybe if they sit for a few years and then come up for re-writes, they might eventually make it. Watchman was obviously one of those books that should never have seen the publisher’s desk.