Atticus Finch: still a decent and honorable man

Atticus Finch, a fictional lawyer in a fictional Maycomb County, Alabama , is a paragon of virtue in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Now, with the publication of ”Go Set a Watchman”, a recently discovered 1st draft of Mockingbird, critics are saying that Finch’s true character emerged when he became an odious racist.

That’s a lie.

Finch didn’t turn into a racist. If anything, he started as a fictional racist and turned into a decent and admirable man.

The key here is that his racist persona came first in the manuscript 31-year-old Harper Lee submitted to her agent in 1957. Her agent sent it on publishing houses, including J. B. Lippincott Company. There it landed on the desk of an editor, Therese von Hohoff Torrey, who went by the name Tay Hohoff professionally. Hohoff thought Lee’s novel needed major reworking, but she saw Lee’s potential talent as a writer and story-teller.

Harper Lee in her 30's

Harper Lee in her 30’s

It was only after the refinement of multiple drafts over the next several years, under Hohoff’s watchful and immensely talented guidance, that “To Kill a Mockingbird”, and the heroic character of Atticus Finch, emerged.

In other words, the Atticus Finch of ”Go set a watchman”, is not a sequel to “To Kill a Mockingbird”, a graphic evolution of a man of integrity to a racist. Rather, it is a 1st draft of a fictional character who was redrawn to be an honorable man. Release of the 1st draft has no explanation other than greed.

So don’t let “Go Set a Watchman” define Atticus Finch. Teachers don’t need to now depict Finch as a man of integrity who became a bigot. Parents who have named a child Atticus don’t need to feel that they’ve been betrayed. Generations of devoted readers should not despair.

Atticus Finch was, and remains, a heroic figure deserving of our admiration and respect.


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