I read To Kill a Mockingbird when I was in high school. And it started my love of reading... which ended, incidentally, when I opened a Twitter account.
I recall watching Oprah Winfrey talk about a meeting she once had with the great Harper Lee. Winfrey, a huge fan of To Kill a Mockingbird, asked the author why she never wrote another novel. Lee replied, "I already said everything I needed to say." Then Oprah gave Lee a free car!
Those words stuck with me. "I already said everything I needed to say." I suspect the director of the Fast and the Furious movies will say the same thing after around the fifteenth or sixteenth installment of the franchise. "I already said everything I needed to say." Now, had the frail, elderly Lee added, "... oh, but also Atticus Finch is a racist," then perhaps I'd be more accepting about Go Set a Watchman, the newly released Mockingbird "sequel."
But let's get something straight. Atticus Fitch, the noble father and lawyer in To Kill a Mockingbird, is not a racist. He is exactly what he is in To Kill a Mockingbird. There is no Atticus Finch outside the pages of that book.
Go Set a Watchman is not the continuation of To Kill a Mockingbird. Rather, it was a rejected experiment that Lee would use to perfect her writing and polish her ideas. To write a masterpiece takes practice. Go Set a Watchman was practice. I mean, Alex Rodriguez didn't become an all-star baseball player overnight. It took years and years of practicing the proper steroid-taking techniques. And when A-Rod retires, is it fair to include the first time he played catch in the backyard among his lifetime stats?
Atticus Finch is not a racist. That a completely different character with the same name, in a first draft left unpublished for sixty years, displays racist tendencies is of no consequence. Maybe in 1990, J.K. Rowling doodled a picture on a napkin of Harry Potter snorting coke. Doesn't turn The Half-Blood Prince into a different book.
I don't want to read about a fake Atticus Finch. I share no enthusiasm for a "first draft" Atticus Fitch. Could you imagine if Superman was the total opposite of what we know the character to be? It would be like some sort of "Bizarro" Superman.
To discover that Atticus Finch is anything less than honorable is like finding out Holden Caulfield grew up to be Kid Rock.
In 2003, the American Film Institute voted Atticus Finch the greatest hero in American film, based on the movie adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird... followed by Joe Dirt and Christian Grey. And until Harper Lee writes a new novel telling us differently, Atticus Finch will remain a symbol of dignity and tolerance.
It's already so disheartening to learn that Dr. Huxtable was giving Quaaludes to Denise's college friends. I refuse to give up on Atticus Finch. America needs Atticus Finch.
Personally, I find the circumstances regarding the release of Go Set a Watchman distasteful. That corporate greed supersedes our literary obligation to preserve a classic leaves me uneasy. It seems unlikely that an elderly, reclusive woman who chose to never write another novel really is excited that this book is being published. But regardless, Lee certainly wasn't clamoring for this manuscript to be found or released. And she had sixty years to let that be known.
It's unfair to critique an unread literary work. For all I know, Go Set a Watchman is a brilliant piece of fiction. So I won't criticize the novel itself. But nor will I read it... unless they release it in comic book form and add Batman into the story. I'm just not that interested.
Because when it comes to the Atticus Finch, I already read everything I needed to read.