I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized In Two Minds

In Two Minds

The legacy of Harper Lee – seemingly assured by the universally beloved To Kill A Mockingbird – was complicated by last year’s publication of another novel by Lee, Go Set A Watchman. Atticus Finch, champion of civil rights and embodiment of the liberal virtues of tolerance and equality, is undoubtedly Lee’s best loved literary creation and the surprise announcement of the existence of a second novel in which he was a character last year generated excitement among fans and critics alike. But shock soon followed as Finch was exhumed from his literary resting place and shown to harbour the kind of racist beliefs he was thought to have abhorred. Now, as we eulogise Harper Lee and remember the influence her great novel had on so many young readers, we are forced to confront a more complicated and more difficult vision of her hero than she might otherwise have left with us. In Watchman – an early and very different iteration of the book that would become Mockingbird – we discover that Atticus Finch viewed African Americans as “still in their childhood as a people”. He asks Scout: “[d]o you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theaters? Do you want them in our world? … Do you want your children going to a school that’s been dragged down to accommodate Negro children?” Scout echoes the disappointment of many a Mockingbird fan when she says: “I looked up to you, Atticus, like I never looked up to anybody in my life and never will again.” Many readers, discovering the truth about Atticus’s views, have gone through the same process as Scout: shock, anger, disbelief. He was the moral core of her home town – the watchman – and her disillusionment is devastating. In Watchman, the hero of her youth – and of many of ours – turns out to be wholly different from what we had imagined. Finch represented a purity, an objectivity, an ability to stand apart from yourself and empathise with others that is at the heart of the liberal mindset to this day. His famous injunction to Scout in Mockingbird was for her to set aside her biases and see things from the other side: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” While the Atticus Finch of Mockingbird is a renowned icon of liberalism, he is also (perhaps…

Advertisement

booksupstairs.ie

Dublin’s Oldest Independent BookshopBooks delivered worldwide