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Well, now we know why Harper Lee sat on this one for 55 years.
Though the debate has only just begun as to what sort of man we can now consider Atticus Finch to be, and deeper, more probative readings will surely find nuances that don’t fit into the cries of “Atticus Finch is a racist!”…
Those are the exact five words whizzing around the Internet right now.
And if you listen closely, you can hear your 14-year-old self sobbing and setting your tattered copy of To Kill a Mockingbird on fire. Or that may be the Twitterverse collectively groaning in disbelief (and being rather clever, hilarious and pointed while they’re at it).
Go Set a Watchman, the long-awaited and couldn’t-help-but-be much-hyped sequel to Lee’s 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird, is due out Tuesday, with all the fanfare that the release of any revered, reclusive author’s second book ever would have attached to it
All has been going according to plan. The New York Times had exclusive dibs on the first review of the novel and, in a 21st-century twist, the first chapter is online to read for free. An updated version of Harper Lee: American Masters is airing on PBS this Sunday.
But thanks to that Times review, word is now out that Atticus Finch, one of the most upright men in all of literature, the single father of two who futilely defended a black man accused of raping a white woman and became the gold standard against which all moral compasses must be set…
Was actually racist?!
“Shockingly, in Ms. Lee’s long-awaited novel, ‘Go Set a Watchman’ (due out Tuesday), Atticus is a racist who once attended a Klan meeting, who says things like ‘The Negroes down here are still in their childhood as a people.’ Or asks his daughter: ‘Do you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theaters? Do you want them in our world?'” writes Michiko Kakutani in what just became the most explosive book review of the year.
Kakutani writes: “In ‘Mockingbird,’ Atticus was a role model for his children, Scout and Jem—their North Star, their hero, the most potent moral force in their lives. In ‘Watchman,’ he becomes the source of grievous pain and disillusionment for the 26-year-old Scout (or Jean Louise, as she’s now known).”
So on the very day that the Confederate flag finally came down from the South Carolina statehouse, 150 years after the Civil War ended, we get this.
Of course, Atticus is a fictional character and what transpired today in South Carolina was truly a great thing for real life, but the entirely unnecessary wrinkle in fictional time that Lee (or her attorneys who brokered the publishing deal) dropped on us today still left plenty of people traumatized. (People seem to be overlooking the fact that Kakutani’s review also reveals that Jem is dead, but one prick in the balloon at a time.)
At least we’ll always have Gregory Peck‘s Oscar-winning performance as the steadfast Atticus Finch in the 1962 film version. But before you have a chance to watch again, here’s a sampling of the reactions:
Confederate flag is down but Atticus Finch is a racist. It feels like a loss for the week.
— Jim Behrle (@jimbehrle) July 11, 2015
Turns out the South Carolina confederate flag was non-racist Atticus Finch’s last horcrux
— Kelsey D. Atherton (@AthertonKD) July 11, 2015
Still trying to come to terms with revelation that Atticus Finch was a Reddit moderator. (I forgot who I stole this joke from).
— Jeet Heer (@HeerJeet) July 11, 2015
2 fictional male characters I most admired as a child, Cliff Huxtable + Atticus Finch, are not doing well. Someone check on Charles Ingalls.
— Rebecca Keegan (@ThatRebecca) July 10, 2015
This is not the Atticus Finch I remember
— David Arney (@david_arney) July 11, 2015
In Harry Potter sequel, Harry and Ron decide Hermione is a Mudblood and set out to kill her. http://t.co/01N93RF7HB
— Jonathan Chait (@jonathanchait) July 10, 2015
First Woody Allen, then Bill Cosby, now Atticus Finch. You can’t trust anyone anymore.
— Jeet Heer (@HeerJeet) July 10, 2015
Also in Harper Lee’s “Go Set A Watchman” we find out Atticus Finch changed bodies with Scout and Scout has to learn how to become a lawyer
— ClarkJClark (@Clark_J_Clark) July 11, 2015
How in the HELL does Atticus Finch become a racist I don’t even know if I wanna read it :\\
— Blondie (@chelsfaux) July 11, 2015
— Benjamin Brandenburg (@BenBrandenburg) July 11, 2015
The flag comes down and then Atticus Finch becomes racist. One comes in, one goes out, as they say. Let’s call it a wash. #ASMSG
— John Harbour (@John_Harbour) July 11, 2015
Note to my publishers…if you ever do this to a legacy of mine, I WILL HAUNT YOU FOREVER. So help me Atticus Finch #ASMSG
— John Harbour (@John_Harbour) July 11, 2015
So Atticus Finch was afraid of racial change, suspect of NAACP lawyers & knew klansmen. Perhaps he’s less heroic but more genuinely American
— Michele Norris (@michele_norris) July 11, 2015
i just can’t deal with the idea of a racist atticus finch. pre-order cancelled.
— turtlesong17 (@turtlesong17) July 11, 2015
So based on my Twitter timeline, there is a new Harper Lee novel where Atticus Finch flies to Pluto and starts a KKK chapter?
— nestor guillen (@birdsnfrogs) July 11, 2015
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