Lance Scranton: Revisiting Atticus Finch
I worked up the courage to read “Go Set A Watchman” this past weekend. I didn’t really intend to complete Harper Lee’s sequel to the classic “To Kill A Mockingbird” in two days, but opportunity presented itself, and I actually got caught up in the complex theme as one of my fictional heroes, Atticus Finch, is presented as many years older and struggling with arthritis and the changes taking place in the South.
I insist that readers in my literature classes do their best to understand the world the author’s characters find themselves in and the historical context of the literary work. In this sequel to the classic novel that each and every student should be required to read, Atticus Finch is found by his grown-up daughter to be part of a community group that has, as part of its membership, open and avowed racists.
“Go Set a Watchman” finds an articulate, patient, but older Atticus Finch living with a sister who is taking care of him, a daughter who is living in New York, and a son who died much too young. Atticus has taken a young man under his wing who has aspirations to be the next Atticus Finch and marry his daughter, Scout, now referred to as Jean Louise. Without giving too much away, Jean Louise is forced to deal with the complexities of a small town coming to grips with racial equality and integration.
Atticus Finch has always been about the law and how the law should be administered without any consideration of skin color or economic condition. The complexity involved in his updated view of race relations centers around his particular viewpoint of the manner in which racial integration is taking place in Alabama. He is a local-control kind of southern gentleman whose views are something we wouldn’t understand today, but what we can understand is his confidence in law and justice.
Painfully, Jean Louise realizes that her New York attitudes are nothing like her father or her suitor, and she struggles to understand how the people she loves the most can think the way that they do about race relations.
Sometimes, we don’t, and never will, understand why the people we care about the most can hold views and attitudes that don’t square with what we believe. But, as Jean Louise comes to understand about her father, the law is what guides and directs his true intentions. As painful as her journey home to visit was for Scout, she realizes that her past, and her father’s guidance, made her who she has become.
We are all products of our past, and we are fortunate that, should we determine, we can learn and move forward, just as Scout is forced to do on her visit home.
Lance Scranton is a teacher and coach at Moffat County High School.