The world is a heartbreaking place...
I'm sure many of you have heard that in Harper Lee's new novel being released tomorrow that Atticus Finch, hero of the book we were all forced to read, To Kill A Mockingbird, where he brilliantly defended a black man, is now going to be portrayed as a biggoted racist and segregationist. At first I was shocked and dimsayed and thought poorly of Harper Lee for wanting to release this. Then I realized, this is not only the perfect way of keeping conversations about race on the literary table, but also brilliantly showing a complex character who is very human.
Racism and its place in the literary world is not in the realm of this site, so I'll move on to how Atticus Finch actually being a racist (or becoming more of a racist as he aged) revals a complex portrait about all of us. I can have flawed views and still do good. I can have good views and still choose to act in flawed ways. The world isn't as cookie cutter as good vs. evil and it's this belief that it is so easy to understand that makes us dissapointed in life when it comes to dating, romance, relationships and sex.
We can use Atticus Finch as a metaphor for the dissapointment we've all experienced when it comes to people we have fallen in love with or family members who we've trusted, but have hurt us or done horrible things to others which we disagree with. To now hate Atticus Finch doesns't do justice to the incredible things he achieved in To Kill A Mockingbird. To continue to love Atticus Finch in the same way doesn't serve the man he has become in the new novel (at least according to all the information Harper Lee has confirmed about it.)
People are extremely complex and they're motivated by much more nuanced things than a desire to do good and punish evil. More importantly, an adult needs to be capable of handling the moral complexities he or she will face in the real world. You need to be able to handle that Atticus Finch is a racist. You need to not dismiss him for it. You need to try to understand him. You don't need to like him, but you need to accept him for what he is and not what you would like him to be. Of course, he's just a character, but it's so often that the characters we read about influence us to create judgements of real people that we meet. The problem is that characters are so often made to be perfect according to our own values. Atticus Finch being a racist and a hero are two very contradictory things that challenge us as readers. Perhaps, it will help us try to understand real people with such contradictions.
To conclude, I think everyone who read To Kill A Mockingbird should read Go Set A Watchman with this in mind: What makes the character of Atticus Finch is not White, Southerner, Educated...these mean nothing in terms of how we connect to him. What matter is what does the character want, what does the character need, and what stands in the characters way. I think if we looked at each other especially in our relationships based on what we want, need, and our obstacles we would understand one another better and understanding would bring more peace although it may not actually get us to like one another any better.
You need to give up your Disney interpretation of a knight in shining armor. The world is a heartbreaking place...