Had Atticus Changed Between “Watchman” and “Mockingbird”?

As for the second and the last novel of Harper Lee, “Go Set a Watchman” was released on July 14th, 2016 and immediately became best-selling novel in America. Though “Go Set a Watchman” was widely considered as the continuation of “To Kill a Mockingbird”, which is one of the most popular novel in America and was once considered as “The novel that can best represent the United States”, it is obvious to most readers that the Atticus Finch in Go Set a Watchman was greatly different from the man in “To Kill a Mockingbird”. In To Kill a Mockingbird, readers regarded Atticus as the hero because he fought all hindrance to defend Tom Robinson, who was slandered that he had raped a white woman. However, Atticus, in “Go Set a Watchman”, became a totally racist who could say “Have you ever considered that you can’t have a set of backward people (Negros) living among people advance (White people) in one kind of civilization and have a social Arcadia” (Harper, Watchman 242). Many readers considered the change of Atticus in Go Set a Watchman is “abrupt”, “impossible” and “unacceptable”. However, I think that Atticus may had never changed, it was us that thought Atticus wrong in the first place.

It is not hard for us to find that Atticus, throughout both stories, was a competent attorney and regarded the law as the highest authority on earth. As a lawyer, Atticus considered everything logically, when talking about living with blacks, though Atticus know that the integration process of America cannot be avoid, still he thought blacks would violate his interests, so he interrogated Jean Louise: “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 Arcaida?” Nonetheless, if we go back to “To Kill a Mockingbird”, we could easily find that Atticus’s attitude to Africa-Americans had never changed, in “Mockingbird”, Finch described black people as “Mockingbird”, which indicated that blacks are innocent but also ignorant. Also, his believed that only white people could save these “Negros” and even in “Mockingbird”, we could find that he did not treated Calpurnia, who was a black housemaid in Finch’s family, equally and usually talk with Calpurnia in a jussive tone. Moreover, in Atticus’s defending statement of Tom Robinson, the way he constructed his sentence also showed that what he believed was not equality, but the objective justice: “We know all men are not created equal in the sense some people would have us believe—some people are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity because they’re born with it, some men make more money than others, some ladies make better cake than others—some people are born gifted beyond the normal scope of men” (Lee, Mockingbird 276) and “there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man equal of an Einstein, and an ignorant man equal of any college president. That institution, gentlemen, is a court. It can be the Supreme Court of the United States or the humblest J.P. court in the land, or this honorable court which you serve” (Lee, Mockingbird 277). No one could contradict that Atticus was not a good attorney. However, he may not be considered as a totally non-raciest in both novel. Catherine Nichols, in her essay “Atticus Was Always a Racist: Why Go Set a Watchman Is No Surprise” posted on Jezebel also mentioned: “In many ways, Atticus’s subtle racism in Mockingbird is the story’s brilliance. Go Set a Watchman, in comparison, is unsubtle—but its passion and roughness are its charm. Where Mockingbird is polite, Watchman is rude. And Maycomb deserves some rudeness” (Nichols), which also states that Atticus may had been a racist in “Mockingbird”, and what he did was just showed his true color in “Go Set a Watchman”.

In conclusion, Atticus Finch’s “change” in “Go Set a Watchman” should never be a surprise for us readers because we could easily find some Atticus’ racial discourse and actions in “To Kill a Mocking Bird”. Because we, as well as Jean Louise” chose to ignore Atticus’ racist nature, we considered Atticus as a hero, a brave individual who tried to fight against inequality. Nonetheless, as Nichols says in her passage, “The truth is that he never meant to” (Nichols).


Work Cited

Lee, Harper. Go Set a Watchman, Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY, 2015.

Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Warner, Print 1982.

Catherine, Nichols. Atticus Was Always a Racist: Why Go Set a Watchman Is No Surprise, Jezebel. Link: http://jezebel.com/atticus-was-always-a-racist-why-go-set-a-watchman-is-n-1718996096

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