.Thanks so much, Gawker, for the screaming headline: Turns Out Atticus Is a Racist in New Harper Lee Novel. That headline did what it was intended to do—freak people out. Clickbait is alive and thriving. I didn’t read the piece. In fact, I stayed away from every think piece, every review. I wanted to go in totally blind. I wasn’t able to thanks to the headlines but I did the best I could.
I was so angry about that headline! Thanks to spoilers like that (I didn’t click through any of them), I expected to encounter an Atticus who was racist in a very belligerent and vocal manner. I kept waiting to be shocked, but wasn’t. God, I hope where I live hasn’t desensitized me…but I couldn’t tell if Atticus was speaking tongue-in-cheek, or if he was playing some subversive kind of game in an attempt to keep the community together in a quickly changing time, or if he actually believed what he was saying. Maybe it’s simpler than that; maybe I was holding on to the Atticus I know and love from To Kill a Mockingbird.
I think that trapped vision of Atticus versus the monster that Jean Louise sees is definitely what Uncle Jack was trying to get at. But I still read Atticus as a vocal racist, not just a player in the game of his time. Even if you think about the horribly problematic statements Jean Louise makes and nods in agreement to in the final pages and compare them to the way Atticus talks about African Americans…I don’t know, it just seems like he’s in another league altogether.
“Below her, on rough benches, sat not only most of the trash in Maycomb County, but the county’s most respectable men.”
Now that is something to mull over. It’s easy to think up examples of uncouth, aggressive racism. But Atticus’ racism…it had that sinister intelligentsia thing going on. That’s certainly another league.
This Atticus has almost no relation to the man I remember from TKAM. I read him as condescending and pretentious. (There was a whole scene when I swear he was smiling and practically laughing at Scout.) He treated Scout/Jean Louise as person with a valid opinion when she was a little girl, but when she was a grown woman he practically laughed at her and patted her on the head? That makes no sense to me.
I don’t necessarily see Mockingbird Atticus and Watchman Atticus as the same person, but I do think there’s a way of explaining that change: The nurturing Atticus of Mockingbird was the heroic version Scout saw through a child’s eyes, whereas the condescending version of Watchman was what Jean Louise saw as an adult.
I think it’s disappointing that Harper (the publisher) didn’t include an introduction of some kind to clarify that this was a first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird and not a sequel. I’m sure at some point that will be widely known and accepted, but I don’t think it’s fully understood at this point.
I keep overhearing people at the bookstore talking about the timing of when this book was written. People are not aware that it was a first draft.
Should it have been published? Here’s a great op-ed that says no.
Don’t want to take up too much space as the only Socratic Salon member who didn’t read the book, but the Nocera piece pretty much summed up why I didn’t read it. Lee’s editor was well thought of—and Lee trusted her as well—so if she felt the book shouldn’t be published and saw a better direction to go, then why do I want to read a lesser work? I hold Mockingbird so dear.
Also, I’m a cynical bitch and still do not quite believe the discovery and publication story. Lee had the majority of her adult life to say “do it” with this book and she didn’t. Then her sister dies and this woman discovers the manuscript? Not really buying it, but that’s me.
I’m in total agreement with the article, but it was published. Should we boycott it, then? I don’t know. I don’t see how that fixes anything. Since it was published, we’ve been given the opportunity to read a draft of a classic, and that’s something that doesn’t happen all that often. The book wasn’t perfect, but I had an amazing reading experience and I feel like people who don’t read it could be missing out on that. I also think Jenny from Reading the End makes some great points about how it can be valuable to see a multi-faceted version of Atticus.
I’ve been thinking this question over ever since I finished reading. I’m glad I read it, but at the same time, I wish it hadn’t been published. I think it’d have been better to pull out some of the best passages and present those in a collection as the draft that they are, rather than publish the barely edited version that’s out there now.
Monika took the words right out of my mouth. I’m glad I read it but I honestly wish it hadn’t been published. I would have much rather have read pieces and parts of it, perhaps as part of a nonfiction book about the journey towards the publication of TKAM? The two books are different in almost every way. I’m curious about how she got one from the other. What happened in between these two books? How and when did the characters become fully formed? How and when did Lee change her mind on the direction she was taking these characters in? That’s the meat I’m looking for. Those are the things I’m curious about.
I am in LOVE with this thought of Adam’s, from Roof Beam Reader: “It becomes very clear where, why, and how this book became To Kill a Mockingbird, but it also left me wondering what might have happened had that original classic developed into something twice the size, an epic spanning the length of time that is ultimately covered by the two works, and corrected accordingly.” Can you imagine??
How do you think this will change the way TKAM is taught in schools? Will Watchman be ignored and seen as non-canon? Will it be mentioned in somewhat of an introduction to TKAM/Lee, but not taught? Or will they be taught side-by-side?
I hope it’s not taught. Mentioning it would be great for students interested in reading more on their own. But it’s so unpolished—downright rambling at times—and there is limited time in school. I don’t think this draft is significant enough to warrant taking time away from other novels that deserve attention.
I’m with you in thinking that it should be mentioned but probably skipped over at the high school level, but I do think it could be very interesting for English majors to tackle in college. It’s something that’s pretty relatable for young adults, and it could be a fascinating way to look at writing from so many different angles.
If I’m honest, I hope that Watchman is ignored. I think it was a mistake to publish it. I think it would be a mistake to view it as anything other than a messy character study/first draft that Lee wrote as part of her journey to writing one of the most beloved books in the world.
What about you, dear readers? Do you think Go Set a Watchman should have been published? Was reading it a meaningful experience for you, or did you find it cringe-worthy? Do you believe its discovery and publication story?