There’s a mild furor taking place in the literary world right now, as fans of To Kill a Mockingbird open up the prequel, Go Set a Watchman, to discover that Atticus Finch – the #1 Movie Hero in AFI’s list of Heroes and Villains – is now openly racist.
People are now debating the legitimacy of Atticus’s legacy to begin with, some calling him a white liberal fantasy, others claiming that, sure, everyone is racist, but some racists are trying to do some good.
My feelings on the matter are mostly dismay – because I don’t think Go Set a Watchman should have been published to begin with.
By all accounts, the publication of Go Set a Watchman is shady. By some accounts, the publication is downright immoral. All kinds of shady stuff has started happening since Harper Lee’s sister and legal protector, Alice Lee, passed away. The authorized biography of hers had its authorization rescinded under murky circumstances, and now this.
From that piece about the biography:
So I don’t like the chatter about Atticus’s racism. Because these discussions lend the book a sense of legitimacy – when all signs indicate that the work itself is not legitimate. Seriously, why are you talking about a fictional character’s racism and not about the exploitation of a very real person?
I wrote a bunch of failed novels before I got published. Most were very bad. All were very derivative. And some probably had some morally suspect, immature, shitty content – female characters I now wouldn’t want to see the light of day, and so on.
The idea that I might one day either die or lose control of my faculties, and then have someone raid my “trunk” and publish these works, absolutely sets my skin crawling.
This isn’t who I am anymore, it’s not what I write anymore, and it’s not what I want to have on the page anymore.
So my reaction to all the grand-standing and the debates and the proselytizing about Atticus as avatar of the white patriarchy and whatnot, is mostly that you shouldn’t be having this conversation. To discuss the book is to breathe life into it, when it’s pretty clear Harper Lee herself wanted it to die.