What happens when the hero of a legendary American novel turns out to be a racist?
For starters, a lot of people get upset.
When it was revealed last week that Harper Lee made Atticus Finch a segregationist in her “To Kill a Mockingbird” pre-written sequel “Go Set a Watchman,” reaction in some quarters was an unprecedented level of shock for a change to a fictional character.
CNN reported that several Twitter users were “aghast” at the revelation. The Wall Street Journal’s review of “Watchman” expressed disillusion with the alteration to the “unambiguously heroic figure” of Atticus Finch. “Fox and Friends” blasted the new book as “revisionist fiction.”
Unsurprisingly, The Guardian took it even further by hinting that individuals named after the non-real person should feel bad and Atticus-inspired businesses might want to consider renaming themselves.
However, the new Finch makes the old hero a deeper character. The righteous lawyer of “To Kill a Mockingbird” is almost too good to be true, while the new interpretation makes for a more realistic figure. Great literature is built upon realistic characters, not one-dimensional saints
But with all this agonizing soul-searching going on, it’s reasonable to wonder if anyone will take the logical next step of politically correct thinking: ignoring the literary value of Finch’s alteration and striking “To Kill a Mockingbird” from high school syllabi.
You say that could never happen? “Mockingbird” is too much of an American classic, too beloved by liberals to face such a terrible fate?
Yet the same thing has already happened to Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” a work many people consider the great American novel that also features flawed characters.
For a book which may seem fairly innocuous, Twain’s magnum opus has faced numerous censures and bannings since it was first published. For the last 60 years or so, it is all due to the novel’s alleged racism and less-than-comfortable usage of the n-word. Despite Huckleberry Finn being published in 1885, many politically-correct critics seem insistent that the classic literary work conform to the standards of the 21st century.
In the 1980s, one Virginia school administrator called “Huck Finn” the “most grotesque example of racism I’ve ever seen in my life.” A Washington high school teacher said in 2009 that the book had no place in the Age of Obama and should be replaced by something more modern. (Incidentally, that same teacher also wanted “Mockingbird” gone for simply mentioning the n-word.)
And a school in Texas is now requiring students to attain parental waivers to read the 19th century tome. (RELATED: Texas High School Requires Parental Permission For Students Reading Classic Literature)
This desire reached its apogee with the book’s 2011 edition witnessing the bowdlerization of all racial slurs in the text. The publisher said it was done so “Huck Finn” could find its way into a modern-day classroom and not be outright abolished from public school curriculum. (RELATED: Updated edition Of ‘Huckleberry Finn’ Ditches The ‘N’ Word)
The prospects for “Mockingbird” may be even grimmer. In the book, Finch is the moral center and arguably the work’s main attraction. Evidence for this argument can be found in the millions of lawyers who cite the small-town barrister for why they chose their career.
Now with Finch stating, “the Negroes down here are still in their childhood as a people,” school administrators may be worried in assigning a book that portrays this man as a literary saint. And unlike the enterprising editors that removed the uncomfortable words from “Huck Finn,” you can’t excise Finch out of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
People who might say the new depiction of the country lawyer doesn’t change a thing about the original book simply haven’t noticed how particular perceptions of objects and figures play out in today’s world.
For the last month, a flag was blamed for contributing to the massacre of nine innocent people at a South Carolina church. While the Confederate flag did eventually come down from S.C. capitol grounds, the passion to erase any and all offensive symbols from public life was only exacerbated.
The Massachusetts flag, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Washington D.C., the Stars and Stripes, Woodrow Wilson and the fleur-de-lis were just a few of the targets the vanguard of the left focused on in the wake of the Confederate flag show trial.
But while most of these figures and icons are safe from banishment (for now), the symbols of the Old South stand a greater chance at removal. While the nation’s attention was glued to South Carolina troopers lowering the Stars and Bars for the final time last week, the Memphis City Council voted to exhume the remains of Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest and sell the statue guarding his resting spot.
While it is unclear if this macabre spectacle will help the beleaguered Tennessee city overcome its perennial corruption and abysmal crime rates, city councilors do seem to believe that Memphis is somehow a better place without the body of the long-dead Forrest residing in its domain.
That’s why it’s hard to imagine the legendary novel containing Atticus Finch surviving in today’s culture. When studying literature seems to be more about reinforcing the biases of contemporary America rather than understanding the human condition, why would our benevolent educators allow students to sympathize with a segregationist?
It doesn’t matter if Finch’s views were the norm of rural 1950s Alabama or that his perspective will show students the prejudices of the past. As the criticism of “Huck Finn” reveals, educators and overprotective parents are more concerned with protecting their precious little snowflakes from uncomfortable ideas than with giving them a decent education.
This mentality has turned our universities into preschools for young adults and decreased the ability of our youth to comprehend different viewpoints. (RELATED: The Left’s Outrage At Jerry Seinfeld Proves His Point)
Which brings us back to ol’ Atticus.
Someone with his now-archaic views can only be depicted as a villain in our era, not as a complex character with an equal share of virtues and vices.
To continue to promote Finch as a paragon of justice would be an outrage to many on the left. Thus, “Mockingbird” would need to be taught in a completely different manner or not mentioned at all.
Guess which option will probably be selected.