Go Set a Watchman is due out tomorrow in several countries. Watchman is the sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird (even though it was written mostly prior to Mockingbird). I’m not sure if the book will be all that good, for I feel like if it were even close to the gem Mockingbird was and is then it would have been forced out into the world much, much sooner. But, of course, it is unfair to judge art one has failed to contemplate.
What I can say, almost certainly, is that most readers will not enjoy the book because the treatment of Atticus Finch. Finch, the moral compass of Maycomb, Alabama, was heralded as one of the most upright characters of the 20th century. Gregory Peck’s squeaky clean portrayal of Atticus in the film version furthered the legend of the uncompromising attorney. In fact, the name has become a somewhat trendy baby-name pick in recent years.
And now, many of those parents and someday their Atticus offspring, and readers alike, will crack open pages that topple the notion of the purely good Atticus Finch. In fact, most of the new installment centers upon the conflict for Scout with dealing with her father who is not the man she thought he was. Actually, he is quite the opposite of what she thought he was—and what the world saw him as. Atticus is, apparently, a bigot.
Whether he always was one and no one picked up on it or perhaps Ms. Lee’s dogged refusal for editorial help is causing some formulaic inconsistency is anyone’s guess. And the nice part is, it is fiction either way.
But in some ways it is not.
Many a skeleton has tumbled from a closet, and many a late life decision or discovery has sullied a legacy. In the news, one thinks of Bill Cosby, but it is easy to look far away and neglect the very things at home in our hearts that are tugging at us all and swaying us toward demise.
The truth is that many of us fall down. We form Atticus personas—good and virtuous on the outside—with inner decay that eventually comes to light.
So what practical action is there for us?
We need to be aware of our inner man or woman. Often we think about what others think of us or our career trajectory or our appearance, but we give little time and attention to more essential concerns: our hearts, our character, our convictions. Time and space to consider these things should not make us vapid or self-centered, but balanced, informed, and growing. Without awareness though, we just sort of drift, and often drift into the dark waters that will eventually envelop us, our callings, and our legacies.
We need perspective to be aware, but often we cannot have accurate perspectives about ourselves. We love ourselves too much and others too little. We bend our thoughts to the dictatorial musings of the evil in our hearts. In short, we can easily become deceived, and self-deception is the most prominent of all deception. So to gain perspective on our inner-self, we need the help of others. We need wise advisors in our lives that aren’t solely committed to the action plans of our future pursuits, but also to the heart condition of our present-tense—for what is taking root in our heart right now grows into our decisions tomorrow.
When we do not cultivate the fields, the fields grow wild. Don’t believe me? Try it with your yard. In a few days things won’t be noticeable. In a month they’ll look bad. In a year or two, the yard will be an utter eyesore and affect the total value of the property. The same is true for us. None of us, in this living realm, has arrived. One indicator of life in an organism is growth, and I think the same holds true for the soul, for character. If that is true, than the inverse would also hold water: that a lack of growth is a sign of death. We must constantly be challenging our worldview, strengthening the pure parts of it and abandoning the rest.
4) Know the Author
If Atticus could leave the pages of Mockingbird and enter the realms of reality, I think he may be interested in meeting his creator, Harper Lee. And if that meeting were to occur and Lee informed Finch of what she had in store for him, well, I think he’d find a new author altogether. And while that scenario can never happen apart from a flimsy Hollywood screenplay, it is important for us to consider who is writing the sentences of our own lives. Oh yes, we say we are carving our way, forging our own path, but in truth we are all being influenced by a myriad of sources. By media, television, movies, friends, relatives, politics, religion . . . all of these foist messages at us, and, in some way or another, these ideals stick. Do we consider what is being written into our stories? Do we understand what the lines mean, and where they are taking us? Do we know the author? Do we trust the author?
I will read Lee’s book and Atticus Finch will probably forever be ruined to me. But even so, perhaps the reality underscoring his fictional ruination can bring my own salvation into clearer focus.