Thursday, July 16, 2015

What the Heck

In all the commotion that has followed the release of the new, old, Harper Lee novel "Go Set a Watchman," maybe it would be best to remember one thing: that it is a novel, a work of fiction.

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch
Everyone is all worked up because in this book, written before Ms Lee's landmark (and until this week, only) novel "To Kill a Mockingbird," the hero of Mockingbird, southern lawyer Atticus Finch, is portrayed as a racist who once attended a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan and has rather dim views of the African-Americans among the Americans.  

First of all, remember that "Watchman" is actually the early version of "Mockingbird," submitted for publication in 1957.  Ms Lee was asked by her editor to tone down the Atticus character and make him more of the moral touchstone that he became in "Mockingbird" after two years of rewrites.

So, no reason to be dismayed. It would be a good idea to read "Watchman," if you've a mind to, and then reread "Mockingbird" to see the progress of the man's mind.  Remember, the late 1950s were not a period of great enlightenment as far as race relations went, which was not very far at all, to be frank about it.  Reading them in reverse order of publication would give you the happy outcome that novel readers love.

I read a lot of biographies, and I am constantly dismayed at the moral failures of otherwise great people.  To read that Bobby Darin cheated on my beloved Sandra Dee is something I will grapple with forever.

Back to Atticus, it's sort of interesting that the name itself is Latin, and means "Man of Attica." That's the region in Greece where Athens is found, and Greece is all over the news these days.  Every newspaper, every newscast, Greece is the word.

But some people are now upset that they named male children for the Atticus character. In the New York Times review of "Watchman," Michiko Kakutani says Finch was “the perfect man … In real life, people named their children after Atticus. People went to law school and became lawyers because of Atticus.”

Hollywood actors Casey Affleck and Jennifer Love Hewitt named their sons Atticus, and, of course, there is the most famous non-Finch Atticus, Atticus Shaffer, the great actor who brings to life the role of Brick Heck on "The Middle."  
How comes this kid dresses like I do?  Because I dress like a kid!

So those who find the newly-discovered Atticus Finch a less-than-perfect namesake can now just say they named their kid for Brick! And it could have been worse - you could have named the boy "Finch"!

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