Tags: Atticus Finch | Harper Lee

Atticus Finch a Segregationist in New Harper Lee Book

Friday, 10 Jul 2015 08:40 PM

The first chapter of Harper Lee's eagerly-awaited second novel "Go Set a Watchman" was released Friday, showing her beloved "To Kill a Mockingbird" character Scout Finch as a sexually-liberated young woman and her frail and ailing father Atticus Finch as a bitter segregationist.

The Wall Street Journal and Britain's Guardian newspaper published the first chapter of the book, which is to be published in full on Tuesday, 55 years after Lee's classic novel "To Kill a Mockingbird" novel about racism and injustice in the American South.

It introduces six year-old tomboy Scout from "Mockingbird" some 20 years after the events of the first novel. Now called Jean Louise Finch, she travels from New York back to her Alabama home town to visit her father and to consider a marriage proposal from a childhood friend.

The chapter also reveals that Scout's older brother Jem, died some years ago, and that Atticus, now 72 years old, has crippling arthritis and has handed over much of his legal business to his unconventional daughter's suitor.

The Journal called the work "a distressing book, one that delivers a startling rebuttal to the shining idealism of 'To Kill a Mockingbird.' This story is of the toppling of idols; its major theme is disillusion," reviewer Sam Sachs writes.

He praises "the glimmerings of a Pulitzer Prize winner" in the work, and notes "one brief reminiscence relates Atticus’s tireless defense of a black man falsely accused of rape—though in this telling his client is acquitted."

But the story, taking place shortly after the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, depicts Finch as a defender of a local group where whites convene to "spew racist bile and organize resistance to the federal government," Sachs writes.

"Yes, that is correct: Atticus Finch, standard-bearer of justice and integrity and one of the few unambiguously heroic figures in American literature, was originally conceived as a segregationist," he writes.

"Go Set a Watchman" was written in the 1950s before Lee, now 89 and in an assisted-living facility in her home state of Alabama, penned her 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece.

She then largely retired from public life. Publishing house Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins, astonished the literary world in February when it announced it would publish a book that only a few people knew existed.

Harper has ordered an initial U.S. print run of 2 million for "Go Set a Watchman" and the book is already the most pre-ordered book on Amazon.com since J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" in 2007 - the seventh and final novel about the British boy wizard.

In an early commentary on the first chapter of "Watchman," Lynda Hawryluk, senior lecturer in writing at the Southern Cross University in Australia, said it bears faith to Lee's abilities as a novelist.

Writing for CNN's segment "The Conversation" on Friday, Hawryluk said the opening lines have "a familiar and comforting cadence, like the voice of a loved aunt after a long absence."

But Sachs warns "On one hand, this abrupt redefinition of a famed fictional character is fascinating," but for the millions who hold dear "To Kill a Mockingbird," the newly released work, he writes, "will be a test of their tolerance and capacity for forgiveness."

© 2017 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

   
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The first chapter of Harper Lee's eagerly-awaited second novel "Go Set a Watchman" was released Friday, showing her beloved "To Kill a Mockingbird" character Scout Finch as a sexually-liberated young woman and her frail and father Atticus Finch as a segregationist.
Atticus Finch, Harper Lee
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2015-40-10
Friday, 10 Jul 2015 08:40 PM
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