Since the time some fifty years ago when I first read To Kill A Mockingbird, whenever life tied me in knots and tossed me on the shore, I would remember Atticus and his sheer good decency and I would think I could go on. For Atticus was a prototype of good citizens and good fathers in this world. His character was evidence to me that there existed an aristocracy of men who in the face of evil kept the faith with modesty and integrity. The idea of Atticus and Boo and Scout sweetened the bitter and smoothed the rough in my often tumultuous life.
It is not surprising then that reading Go Set a Watchman was an entirely different experience. True, there were some lofty moments, some flowing sentences, and valued insights, but the characters didn’t breathe for me. They didn’t stay with me for weeks, and I didn’t think I might call them up at Christmas when I was lonely and depressed. But Watchman did something else for me. The less than noble Atticus reminded me of how life really was in the nineteen fifties South. Men and women fed from childhood a daily diet of the glorious legend of the Confederacy did not succumb easily to change and fairness, or at least a “do unto others” fairness. They were brought up to believe in apartheid as a correct agency.
Kill the Lights
To clarify matters, one must keep in mind that the time of Atticus’ coming of age, the early nineteen hundreds, coincided with one of the darkest periods of race relations not only in the South, but throughout the entire United States. In 1915 President Woodrow Wilson screened D.W.Griffith’s racist film Birth of A Nation in the White House. Wilson was also instrumental in reestablishing segregation in government offices, setting back the hard earned ground that African American civil servants had gained. About that time, veterans of the American Civil War from both North and South began to meet together to share common bonds. The South began to be remembered as a lovely forgotten land filled with Magnolias and mammies and gentle nostalgia. The horrors of slavery were forgotten, as Jim Crow came glaringly into its own. To add to this bubbling cauldron of misinformation, the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan began in Atlanta, Georgia. The Klan would thrive for a while, then diminish, only to reignite during Atticus’ waning years in Watchman.
Ark The Legend
During the nineteen thirties, the period in which Mockingbird took place, the well established and respected Atticus would have seen cotton prices plummet and racism accelerate. Atticus and those of his elite middle class would adopt a form of paternalism in dealing with blacks. There was a protectiveness toward African Americans, a sort of oversight of those servants, sharecroppers and pastors who