Reading Nothing But New York Papers

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As a white northerner, it’s been difficult to empathize with white southerners about race because I wasn’t raised to. I’ve been conditioned to look at it a certain way: everyone is equal, regardless of the color of their skin, and anyone who doesn’t believe exactly that is racist. As a northerner, you come to think of yourself as tolerant because you don’t judge people based on physical attributes, but that’s not to say that I wasn’t raised a bigot. Growing up, I was taught that I should judge people based on their beliefs. Intolerance towards the intolerant was central to my parents’ thinking. If someone is a southerner, my parents taught me, then they’re bad.  It’s as simple as that. They’re probably racist.

I never thought about why southerners think the way they do, I was just taught to wonder how they can not think the way that I do, the way that everyone does in Massachusetts. Harper Lee’s novel Go Set a Watchman allowed me to see and truly understand the southern perspective of race in a way that nothing else ever has. This book really opened my eyes to why they think the way they do about race, even if I don’t agree with their reasoning or the conclusions that they draw.

The buzz surrounding this book centered around the fact that Atticus Finch was suddenly a segregationist. Michiko Kakutani’s review of the novel in the New York Times calls Atticus “a racist” and “bigoted.” While the novel does portray Atticus as a segregationist, I don’t think it goes so far as to portray him as racist. The media reacted the same way that Jean Louise did before she talked to her father about his views, the same way that I reacted before reading his explanation.

Atticus’ views in Go Set a Watchman were still far from those of the progressive Atticus Finch that we knew and loved in To Kill a Mockingbird, but his support of segregation stems not from a racial perspective but a cultural one. Never does Atticus say that black people should not have civil rights or be integrated into white schools because of the color of their skin. It is their culture that he deems unacceptable. They are uneducated (Lee 246) and have “made terrific progress in adapting themselves to white ways, but they’re far from it yet” (Lee 246-247). Atticus believes that “you can’t have a set of backward people living among people advanced in one kind of civilization and have a social Arcadia” (Lee 242). His problem is not that they are black, but that they don’t have the same level of knowledge as white people. 

Atticus not wanting unskilled and illiterate people running the government is understandable (Lee 246). I disagree that segregation was the way to educate people who had never been allowed access to quality education before, and therefore were ‘less advanced’ through no fault of their own. The only way to get them to the same level that white people were on was to educate them the same way.

Despite still ultimately disagreeing with Atticus, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could follow and understand his reasoning. Atticus was a man who held knowledge and education above almost all else, so his desire to not see white children “going to a school that’s been dragged down to accommodate” hitherto uneducated children is understandable (Lee 242). 

Atticus is also a fierce advocate of states’ rights. He sees the Supreme Court ruling as an infringement on those rights, and therefore dislikes it. He asks Jean Louise if she can “blame the South for resenting being told what to do about its own people by people who have no idea of its daily life?” (Lee 247). This is an aspect of the argument that I had never thought about before, as I was raised as more of a supporter of the federal government than individual states. 

Though portrayed as one by the media, Atticus did not turn out to be a racist. He’s a snob, as Jean Louise points out on page 244, but he is not a racist. His reasons for supporting segregation allowed me to empathize with him in a way that I did not think possible before listening to his side. I may still be a bigot, as it’s hard to shake the way that one is raised, but hopefully I’m “just an ordinary turnip-sized bigot” (Lee 267).


Works Cited

Kakutani, Michiko. “Review: Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman Gives Atticus Finch a Dark Side.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 10 July 2015. Web. 24 Oct. 2016.
Lee, Harper. Go Set a Watchman. N.p.: HarperCollins, 2015. Print.

Was Atticus Finch a Fake?

Is this man the real Atticus Finch?

Atticus Finch has been known as a literary hero for many years due to his unwavering morals and refusal to conform to racism in his case of defending Tom Robinson. However, this second book published by Harper Lee challenges all of the preconceived ideas that people have of Atticus. In the second book he is depicted as racist. It is very easy to see the substantive change in Atticus’ character, but in many sections of the book the continuity of his character can also be seen. I believe the Atticus in Go Set a Watchman is the same character that the Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird was.

There are many points in Go Set a Watchman that show that Atticus is the same character as he is in To Kill a Mockingbird. There was one very outstanding point in this book that pointed to continuity of character. After seeing Atticus at the meeting, Jean Louise could not believe that he was that man because of the man she had known in her childhood. She remembered the criminal case her father had taken when she was younger. “The only reason he took this one was because he knew his client to be innocent of the charge, and he could not for the life of him let the black boy go to prison because of a half-hearted, court-appointed defense” (GSW 109). This is the one point of continuity that I can clearly see in Atticus. He believed in justice, and he did not take this case because of race but because the boy was innocent.  Jean Louise also remembered Atticus saying “Gentlemen, if there’s one slogan in this world I believe, it is this: equal rights for all, special privileges for none” (GSW 108). This point also supports continuity since this is something that the Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird may have said.

There are also many ideas that can be mentioned that indicate that Atticus is a substantively different character. The main idea for this is the extent that Atticus went for Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird. He sat in front of the jail that Tom was staying in all night to make sure that he was not attacked. The Atticus Finch in Go Set a Watchman wanted to defend Calpurnia’s grandson in court simply to make sure that the NAACP did not get him off (GSW 149). While these may seem like two different people, it is mentioned many times that Atticus was a man of justice (see above quote, GSW 109). Though he was going about it in a morally questionable way in Go Set a Watchman, the man in both books was seeking what he believed was justice.

Atticus believed that black American’s should not have the right to vote

By the end of the novel Go Set a Watchman Jean Louise had began to understand Atticus’ point of view regarding race. Though I do not agree with the Atticus in this novel, I understand where his point of view comes from. During the time period this book was set, much of the south still held racist ideas. Atticus was not the worst of them. One of his main points was the idea of black people having the right to vote. “Can you blame the South for resenting being told what to do about its own people by people who have no idea of its daily problems” (GSW 247). This refers to the idea that people from both races had very different things they would vote for because they had different goals at the moment. Jean Louise did not agree with this because she was “color blind” and she saw only people (GSW 270). The way that Maycomb county and Atticus Finch were depicted in Go Set a Watchman is not surprising given the time period that the novel is set. I think that Jean Louise’s response is very characteristic of someone who lived in the north and was raised to believe that everyone was equal. I completely agree with Jean Louise but by the end of the novel I understood how Atticus had his point of view. I think Jean Louise matured a lot throughout the novel by being able to understand her fathers perspective and accepting it even though she very adamantly disagreed with it. Jean Louise had to cope with the transformation of the father she had known as a child and idolized to the man she knew now.

Works Cited:

Lee, Harper. Go Set a Watchman. New York: Harper Collins, 2015. Print.

Image References:

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Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover: First Impressions and Empathy

Since my reading career began, I have always been told not to “judge a book by its cover,” because first impressions are not always telling. This concept is applied to human-human interactions and first impressions, and due to human mistake, we can misjudge someone’s character, and form harsh opinions of them in our minds, which often stick.  In Kelly Cummings’s thesis about nonverbal communication and first impressions, she analyzes the relationship between first impressions and empathy. “In most cases, people start to empathize as soon as they make eye contact with another person, or as they look at their posture, actions and the context,” (Cummings, 26). Interactions at first glance can often cause rash and incorrect opinions, stemming from the empathy (or lack there of) that we have for the other person; this is another barrier presented by empathy.

vannart10_8-webBy using analysis of first impressions, we can answer the question of whether or not Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman should be read as a complement to To Kill a Mockingbird. It is clear that there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the publication of Lee’s sequel Go Set a Watchman.  From the fact that it is but a draft of a novel, and to the age of Harper Lee at the time of publishing, the lines surrounding the ethics of publishing this novel are clearly blurred.  The confusion surrounding the book—and the characterization of the beloved character, Atticus—makes readers, like me, unsure as to how this book should be read.  Is it a sequel, or a novel on its own that just uses the same characters in the same setting later on in life?

To answer this question, it is important to look at how this book was intended to sell, and to analyze how marketers target their intended audiences through empathy. Buzzfeed is an innovative social media website that is targeted towards millennials through their use of videography and website design and interactivity. They have become incredibly popular over the past few years, creating special channels, popular ones being “Tasty” and “Nifty”—simple instructional videos that show everyday people how to cook delicious recipes, and how to revamp a house. The reason for the success of these videos, according to Nikki Gilliland in an article titled “A brand that loves you: How Buzzfeed uses empathy to connect with its audience” is the simplicity of Buzzfeed. These cooking videos are “a world away from the idealized view of cooking that we see on television shows or films. Instead of the quest for the perfect meal, Proper Tasty aims to create relevant and realistic recipes for everyday people and their friends,” (Gilliland). This is interesting because Buzzfeed uses empathy to connect with its audience, which has allowed it to become to popular among young adults, who don’t have time to read cookbooks or money to afford expensive meals—Buzzfeed understands what it entails to be young, and has learned how to cater towards their intended audiences.

Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" cover

Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” cover

Pictured are the covers of both To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman, and it is the presentation of the latter that will help us understand how it should be read. There are clearly many comparisons to be drawn between the two covers—the biggest one being the tree. The placement of the tree (on the left hand side) is the same between the two covers, as is the brightness in the middle, with darker edges. The focus points of the covers draws our eyes just below the titles. The focus points are emphasized by both the movement of the train, and the angle of the girl, aiming at the titles. While the comparisons are there, the differences is what separates them. To Kill a Mockingbird seems to have more of an air of unification. The falling of the leaves towards the ground (where Scout is) and the direction that she is looking in—towards the tree and the leaves—

Lee's "Go Set a Watchman" cover

Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman” cover

creates this full circle, which is further emphasized by the glowing moon behind them. Scout, the tree, the leaves and the fence are all silhouettes by the moon behind, creating a sense of unity between Scout and her home. Go Set a Watchman lacks the sense of unity, and rather severs the cover in half. Scout, in the train, is clearly distanced from the tree, now budding with leaves. The distinct line behind the train separates the foreground from the background—Scout no longer belongs with the scenery. There is also a schism between the industrialization of the train and its tracks, versus the natural tree. The leaves on the trees are noteworthy, too. In To Kill a Mockingbird the leaves are falling of the tree, dead, while in Go Set a Watchman, the leaves are budding, and are bright in color. The covers further shed light on the themes. To Kill a Mockingbird focuses on Scout growing up in the nature of her home, while Go Set a Watchman is centered around her return home, and the conflicts she faces.

Through this juxtaposition, it is clear how the publishers made it so the covers did resemble one another. For a reader who enjoyed To Kill a Mockingbird, they would also be drawn to Go Set a Watchman. The publishers use empathy to their advantage, by understanding their readers, and encouraging them to continue to the second book. However, the other notable piece about the juxtaposition of the covers is how Go Set a Watchman is being sold to readers. It is not being advertised as “a sequel” but “a novel.” A novel is generally a story told on its own, and a sequel is its counter piece; however, this is not how this sequel is being sold. To anyone who is not aware of the relationship between these two books, it would seem as if the Go Set a Watchman is nothing but another novel by the same author.

Ultimately, through analysis of marketing and empathy, I believe it is safe to say that Go Set a Watchman is a novel, with the same characters and setting, and should be read this way.


Works Cited

Cummings, Kelly. “Nonverbal Communication and First Impressions.” Thesis. Kent State University Honors College, 2011. Web. 8 Nov. 2016.

Gilliland, Nikki. “A Brand That Loves You: How Buzzfeed Uses Empathy to Connect with Its Audience.” Econsultancy. Limited, 19 Oct. 2016. Web. 30 Oct. 2016.

Lee, Harper. Go Set a Watchman. New York: Harper Collins, 2015. Print.

Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 1960. Print.

Vann, Julia. When it comes to first impressions, don’t judge a book by its cover. Digital image. Daily Trojan. University of Southern California, 7 Oct. 2010. Web. 8 Nov. 2016. 

Blog Assignment 6 – Go Set a Watchman

Now that you’ve read Go Set a Watchman and learned about its publication history and controversial reception, you will respond to the novel in your own way. You can choose any aspect of the novel to respond to, but here are a couple of questions you may want to consider:

  • Much has been made about the changes to Atticus Finch’s character. But some writers see continuity (and others have suggested that we had Atticus wrong to begin with). What about you? Where do you see substantive change in Atticus’ character? Where do you see continuity?
  • Jean Louise reacts initially with disgust when she discovers the “truth” about her father and Hank. Many readers have had similar reactions. But by end of the novel her position has softened considerably. What about your own? How do you respond to this novel’s version of Atticus and the town of Maycomb? How do you respond to Jean Louise’s own response to that?

However you choose to respond, you should cite specific passages from the text, and provide analysis of those passages to support your response. Make sure your post is cited according to the guidelines I’ve provided. Your post should be 500-750 words in length, and is due by the beginning of class on Tuesday, October 25.