Flinching from the “new” Atticus Finch

I found myself watching the movie To Kill a Mockingbird in the context of the release of the new book by Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman.

AtticusFinchThe family went to the Madison Theatre in Albany last Wednesday night to see the classic movie To Kill a Mockingbird. I had never watched it before at a cinema, only on TV. The Wife had viewed only bits of it, and The Daughter had not seen it at all. It is a fine film, of course, and I need not review it here.

The great music of Elmer Bernstein made The Daughter nervous, especially around the storyline of Boo Radley. And she was confused by the scene in the woods near the end as to what really happened, given the subsequent dialogue.

While I appreciate the timeliness of the showing, I should note that the experience was lessened somewhat by a large amount of sound “bleed” from the adjoining theater. In fact, it got SO loud that I could almost not hear the film I was watching. What the heck was playing over there, anyway? It turned out to be the earthquake disaster film, San Andreas.

I found myself watching Mockingbird in the context of the release of the new book by Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman. This novel has been mired in controversy. First, the argument was that the author was “increasingly blind and deaf,” and that the book’s release was somehow contrary to her real wishes.

More importantly, the new tome redefines Atticus Finch, the practically saintly protagonist of Mockingbird, so well played by Gregory Peck in the movie, and is so popular that children have been increasingly named after him. Watchmen suggests that Atticus, was, in his later years, a racist on the wrong side of history.

Some folks, like my buddy Chuck Miller, have chosen to ignore Watchman, considering it not part of the canon. I used to read comic books, so I recognize that writers are often mucking up beloved characters in ways we do not recognize. We often pick and choose what we will choose to accept. (Hey, kind of like the Bible!)

As someone who participated in a marathon of To Kill a Mockingbird reading a few years back, I’m excited to read Go Set a Watchman, even if it’s less compelling than its predecessor. Because, as NPR put it: Harper Lee’s ‘Watchman’ Is A Mess That Makes Us Reconsider A Masterpiece.

The screenplay for the movie To Kill a Mockingbird was written by the late Horton Foote. His third cousin, the late writer Shelby Foote, was an apologist for the Confederate flag. I have a feeling that the “new” Atticus is more complicated than we want to accept.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

3 thoughts on “Flinching from the “new” Atticus Finch”

  1. I’ve never read the book and I’ve never seen the movie. I’m not quite sure why, but there it is. I have seen several people write that in Mockingbird, Atticus is really not as enlightened as everyone thinks, and his racial views are fairly paternalistic. Is that true, do you think? And do you think our view of the literary Atticus is colored by our admiration for Gregory Peck, the actor?

  2. Was Atticus paternalistic? Probably; it’s been a while since I read the book. Is Gregory Peck’s portrayal coloring our admiration? ABSOLUTELY, and I watched the film with that in mind.

  3. I’ve read TKAM several times since 10th graders here study its themes of racism, father figures, growing up, etc. etc. Therefore, I’ve studied it as well as read it. The so-called “new” book was, as I’ve heard, written before “To Kill a Mockingbird” and was never published. Who knows why and why, perhaps, the author had a change of opinion or the time was not right to publish it or whatever…I do think I’d like to read it and wonder if teachers might include it in the curriculum for pros/cons or compare/contrast type of essays.

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