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Atticus Finch: in To Kill a Mockingbird and in Go Set a Watchman

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For being proclaimed as the land of the free, the United States does have a cruel history of social injustices on race and gender. Throughout the Great Depression, African Americans were still looked down upon and were treated as “three-fifths of a person” despite the slaves being freed and “justified”. AHarper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird illustrates the cruelty and inhuman treatment that the African American slaves received and that the author is trying to persuade honorable treatment to mankind and the political change that was needed. Atticus Finch in How to Kill a Mockingbird is portrayed as a moral saint for standing up for the injustice that is happening in his town, rare in this time and place. Although Go Set a Watchman was written before To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch is given a dark side to his character, despite him being portrayed as a fair role model and kind man, especially in the previous book.

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To begin with, Harper Lee is a white female novelist, she is a minority in gender but the’superior’ race, although gender minority differs from racial minority she is well aware of the struggle of being looked down upon from the white men in society. When she published To Kill a Mockingbird at the peak of the civil rights movement, she wrote this fictional book putting a personal spin to her views on the South because Atticus Finch is based on her father and Maycomb, Alabama is inspired from her hometown, she discussed racial issues in society from each perspective of the characters. Racism is at the heart of South America in the 18th century at the midst of colonization, the idea of ‘race’ was to separate and divide those of European Descent and African descent, which contradicted the ideology of human equality, unlimited opportunities, and freedom. Slavery ended in the late 1800s, but the bigotry and hate were still embedded in white culture.

The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in 1865 but African Americans did influence government until 1965 when the twenty-fourth amendment was passed. The novel is published, in 1965 a peak for race equality at the time African Americans now have a say in their government and it took another forty threes year to elect an African American president. Racial equality is slowly progressing, the way the politics are today it seems that it is going back in time as racism seems to grow back again. The impact that this book has on society today that Harper lee wrote, it is a requirement in most school systems as it teaches the wrong and unjust ways of racism and American history. While the book was fiction the racism was non-fiction, the problems with racism in the southern society were real and still are today.

Atticus as a character represented the perfect example of how few superior races are willing to defend an African American for a case against a white female. Lee portrays finch as a morally correct and outstanding mad standing up for the unjustified man when no one else would. It is strange for a white man that grew up on racism to change their point of view so fast especially in a time like this. Finch risked his career and even his life for an African America that was wrongly accused. Atticus Finch was doing his job as a lawyer and did not involve his personal opinion, and did not let it be in the way of his professional career. 

Describing Atticus as a character that surpasses both the father and law image from the Christian tradition, and the one that is beyond equivalence of “the Father-as-Infallible-Judge,’’ the authors describe Atticus as the amalgamation of fatherhood and law that “conjure a normative world of becoming more than being” (19)., the authors describe Atticus as the character with the purpose “to bridge the gap between the present and the beckoning possibility of justice” (31) and to set a foundation for the legal values that are still to enter the American social scene in future generations. The way harper lee describes Atticus finch he seems to be a saint, a white man finally with good morals in the thirties, you would assume he is just doing his job as a lawyer keeping his personal views to himself and doing his job but the way he talks and interacts to his kids about justice for all, especially the African Americans, it seems to be apparent that Atticus is a good man with a good heart and actually cares.

Atticus Finch’s character is completely changed in Harper Lee’s second book Go Set a Watchman, where his dark side is revealed and truths about his character are revealed. Even though it is written in the third person, Go Set a Watchman reflects Scout’s point of view. In Go Set a Watchman, it is revealed that her beloved father that taught them about morals and equality is all thrown away when Scout finds out that he went to white supremacy meetings and did not want African Americans to associate in their environment, schools, theaters, etc..

“I’ll never believe a word you say to me again. I despise you and everything you stand for.” Scout says to her father after discovering the truth about her father. She discovers that her father is a true racist. Atticus says to Scout “Have you ever considered that you can’t have a set of backward people living among people advanced in one kind of civilization and have a social Arcadia?” He is claiming that you can not have two different societies, African Americans being the “backward people” living in harmony together. It’s surprising to see a man who once saw defend an African American and defend their rights as a US citizen and a human being and even teaching his children the importance of it all, turns into this hateful bigot who can care less.

It seems to me that Go set a watchman is a harsh reality that characters are not loved, we see Atticus’ true identity as he is not the hero and we know and love especially to his daughter who is mortified at the least. Atticus racism does not stem from hate but it stems from fear as he is afraid that the rise in blacks will take away from their status quo as he states in the book “if the Negro vote edged out the white you’d have Negroes in every county office” (243)He states that though blacks have made considerable progress in adapting to “white ways,” they are still “far from it”(246-47) One particular case that the supreme court has reviewed is the famous case Brown VS Board of Education, Atticus argues with his daughter that this case takes away Alabama from governing themselves and yet again in fear of the “blacks” taking over. Although this is prejudice to say it does make more sense for this to be his opinion in Go Set a Watchman theme in How to Kill a Mockingbird in this period.

Gender roles were a big factor in the Great Depression and the novels, especially To Kill a Mockingbird. Motherless children usually have a harder time, it is portrayed and easily noticeable in with Atticus Finch because of his idealistic attachment from reality. Also, his children only had Calpurnia as the closest thing to a mother role and figure to them, so Atticus did have more on his plate to deal with his work and children especially since it was not in a blooming time, and everything was crashing. Harper Lee emphasized a female voice throughout the novel, which was Scout and her forming a growth, and moving away from Southern society. Scout also symbolized empowerment from her father, but she had other role models in her life such as Boo Radley, Tom Robinsons, and Mayella Ewell.

In Conclusion, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman to contradict each other, but both impact society and politics. Go Set a Watchman was written before To Kill a Mockingbird but was published years after, the time frame that it was written in has an impact on the Great Depression and the ongoing racism still occurring in the south.  

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