Norwalk Reflector: Atticus Finch a racist? There goes the ideal of beloved 'To Kill a Mockingbird' character

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Atticus Finch a racist? There goes the ideal of beloved 'To Kill a Mockingbird' character

TNS Regional News • Jul 21, 2015 at 3:13 PM

Readers were eager to pick up copies of “Go Set a Watchman” on Tuesday despite news that beloved “To Kill a Mockingbird” character Atticus Finch expresses racist sentiments in the new book.

The 1950s setting of Alabama native Harper Lee’s “Watchman” forces readers to recall a painful past, but several Tennessee Valley readers said that gave them another reason to purchase the book on the first day it was available. A local bookstore said sales were strong.

“Race relations are a very complicated thing,” Calhoun Community College English instructor Phyllis Brewer said. “If she is going to portray a human being, there will be flaws.”

Brewer said in Lee’s first novel, “In ‘Mockingbird,’ Atticus focuses on what is right and wrong. Jim (Atticus’ son) is the one who grapples with class issues the most.”

“Mockingbird” was set when Jim and his sister, Scout, were young. “Watchman” takes place 20 years later.

“Of course Atticus will be flawed, as the 1950s were a very troubling time,” Brewer said.

Brewer re-read “Mockingbird” last weekend to prepare for Tuesday’s release. She said she had read the first chapter of “Watchman” and reported it “shows the same language and beauty that ‘Mockingbird’ contained.”

Lisa Terry, who bought a copy of the new book Tuesday morning, said she was not hesitant about getting the sequel. “(The recent coverage) made me want to read it more.”

Terry also said she was re-reading “Mockingbird” before beginning “Watchman.”

Valley teachers turned out for the first-day purchase of the book, too. “Mockingbird” is a required reading for many high school students. Austin High School special needs teacher Caki Thibodeaux said she had an open mind about the new book, which actually was written before “Mockingbird.” “Watchman” was recently rediscovered, and Lee allowed it to be published in its original form, which has led some critics to question whether it will be up to the standard of “Mockingbird.”

“I will not base my opinion until after I read it,” Thibodeaux said.

Meanwhile, Decatur High English teacher Kyla Jo Gray said she planned to go home and read the book. Gray has followed the recent coverage of Atticus’ character closely. She said it will be interesting to see how Lee portrays Atticus in the new book.

Sales of the new book were steady at Decatur’s Books-A-Million. Store manager Natasha Miller said the book’s release was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, customers waited outside the Beltline Road store for its 9 a.m. opening. The store also opened after midnight to distribute the first copies. Miller said the store had not seen that big of a reaction since the “Harry Potter” books were released, and she planned to read “Watchman” once she returned home.

Books-A-Million didn’t provide sales figures for the book.

The Decatur store ran out of “Watchman” copies it had available for sale about midafternoon and was left with only those reserved for customers who preordered. The store hoped to get more copies today.

The devout local readers were representative of the nationwide demand for the book. Its first printing exceeded 2 million copies. According to The Associated Press, the bookstore in Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, Ol’ Curiosities & Book Shoppe, ordered more than 10,000 copies for a town of about 6,000 people. More than 200 people stood outside the bookstore in order to purchase their copy Tuesday morning.

“Harper Lee shines a great light on Alabama,” Julia Owens said as she picked up a copy of “Go Set a Watchman” on Tuesday in Decatur.

Skepticism was not a factor for Owens. She read “Mockingbird” in school and said the positive feelings she took away from Lee’s first novel will be how she approaches “Watchman.”

The heavy turnout is big for the state of Alabama, as Lee has become an iconic American writer.


By Blythe Bowman - The Decatur Daily, Ala. (TNS)

©2015 The Decatur Daily (Decatur, Ala.)

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