From To Kill A Mocking Bird to Go Set A Watchman, there are both continuities and changes within Atticus’s character. As it is portrayed in To Kill A Mocking Bird, Atticus’s persistence on defending Tom Robinson makes him a heroic figure. His pursue for justice, for color-blindness and for racial equality consolidates his character of fairness in Jean’s heart. However, the change of Atticus’s character from a supporter for racial equality to a backer of racial discrimination leaves great shock to both Jean Louise and readers. In Go Set A Watchman, Jean’s transition from anger to softness deserves readers’s thinking about the reason behind. And from my perspective, I believe the change of Jean’s referents shall account for why she failed to empathize with Atticus at start and softened in the end, becoming her own watchman. In my article, I am going to shed light on changes and continuities in Atticus’s characters and explain Jean’s transition.
Obviously, Atticus’s stance on the rights of the black changes significantly from To Kill A Mocking Bird to Go Set A Watchman, but his responsible role of father continues. In To Kill A Mocking Bird, Atticus defends Tom Robinson by declaring, “In courts, all we are legally equal.” Although Tom Robinson was finally died of racial discrimination, Atticus’s spirit of searching for justice and equality, in the eye of little Jean Louis, was admirable and irreplaceable. After thirty years, however, Atticus was no more the one rooted in Jean memory, the sparkling figure to fight against racists. I see compromises, instead of perseverance as it used to be, in his standpoint on racial equality. His action of attending Citizen’s Council and opposing the efforts of NAACP, though Hank explains the motive as advocating changes from within, reveals concessions to me. Atticus changes from one who explicitly supports racial equality to one who learns to give in faced with big social trend. Yet, Atticus remains a responsible father, who taught his daughter to learn about the flawed nature of humans, and to live on the basis of her own conscience. As Jean grows, her cognition of the world starts to become independent, but not of his father’s deep influence in her heart. Atticus broke the image of a perfect father by showing that he is also flawed. Though the author did not make it clear eventually whether Atticus intentionally allows Jean Louise to misunderstand his own views about race in order to encourage her to think for herself, Atticus’s role of father deserves our respect, which is also the continuity I spot.
Meanwhile, Jean’s transition is also something worth readers’ reflections. Since empathizer can never directly know what the object is thinking about, he only infers the object’s inner state. Along the process of inference, the empathizer will find a referent that is reasonably similar to those he observed in the object. Specifically, when she returned from New York, her referent of her father was still the rooted figure who pursues racial equality and color-blindness remains in her heart. Such kind of referent differs greatly from what she observes Atticus to be, the one who backs color-difference and opposes the efforts of NAACP, which leads to her failure of empathy, further constitutes her anger. However, as time passes on, she gradually find that the admirable roles in her heart, Uncle Jack and Atticus, are revealed to be not the perfect ones as she expected them to be, or in other words, not the same as the referent in her heart. Atticus does share some thoughts of a racist. Jack is not as mild as she thought who hit her almost to pass out. It was not until the end of the novel when Jean accepts all these and her referent gets changed. With a new referent, she begins to empathize with Atticus again, but this time she learns to be the watchman of herself. This means she is mature enough to live from her own consciousness, separated from the ethics of the world around. This also ends the rooted influence of her father Atticus, the long held perfect role since childhood.
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Warner, Print 1982.
Lee, Harper. Go Set a Watchman, Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY, 2015.