In our culture, we yearn for heroes. The Ancient Greeks invented some for us. Our heroes have been the protagonists of our fictional literature (and oral legend) from before recorded history. We insist that some people who were undoubtably real people be elevated to heroic stature depending on the needs of our story line. Example include Joan d’Arc, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Don’t tell us they were’t perfect; we require the ideal. We need them as templates with which to judge the ethics of our own decisions and actions. Survey children’s and young adult’s literature, heroes abound. Our idol faces down a rigorous challenge, then, like Wesley in The Princess Bride, he saves that which we cherish (Buttercup) from Evil! (1) In Mockingbird, Atticus Finch fails to save the accused but with great bravery he stands tall and challenges the cruel bigotry of his community. While defending the highest ideals of Justice, he teaches his daughter responsible citizenship.
“Say it ain’t so, Joe!”
In 1919, Shoeless Joe Jackson and the Chicago White Sox found themselves back in the running for another World Series ring. Jackson batted .351 during the regular season and .375 with perfect fielding in the World Series. The heavily favored Sox found themselves in a losing battle against the Cincinnati Reds. During the next year while batting .385 and leading the American league in triples. Jackson was suspended after allegations that eight members of the White Sox threw the previous World Series. (2)
In an 1988 Motion Picture, Eight Men Out, there is an iconic scene where, in the wake of the scandal, a distraught boy confronts Shoeless Joe, pleading: “Say it ain’t so Joe!” (3)
July 11, there was a post on-line, from PBS, citing Harper Lee’s prequel: Go Set a Watchman.(4) A spoiler alert says that this publication of Lee’s first book attempt (set at a later time than the “Mockingbird” setting (5), describes Atticus Finch as having racial views. (6)
I wrote a comment to that post: “I want Atticus Finch to stay in ‘Mockingbird’ only”. When I last checked, my comments had received fifty-two “likes” which is afairly strong agreement.
One dissenting critic chastised me for my comment, pointing out that a fictional character belonged to the author and not to the reader. My response to that is:
Go Set a Watchman was Lee’s draft of her attempt of a first book which was rejected for publication and was purposely left unpublished for half a century while Harper Lee cherished her privacy. With recommendations and encouragement, Lee set her (only) novel, (a complete and instant classic, by-the-way), in an earlier time when her characters were much younger. In this second attempt, Lee defined exactly the right characterizations required of the drama she was penning. The “Mockingbird message” is a lessor work without Atticus Finch as portrayed by Gregory Peck. .
Secondly, Atticus Finch is not a real person. I’m not legally liable for my interpretation and description, so lay off. I’m free to fantasize and identify with Superman and Mr. Smith (7) as my psyche requires. I will have my heroes: a’ la carte, Thank you, very much.
In my humble opinion, the publishers should have left Go Set a Watchman, unpublished in a safety deposit box. Harper Lee already was an American Icon.
(1( The Princess Bride, The Motion Picture, 1987
(2) Joe Jackson Official Website. (In 1921 A Chicago jury acquitted Jackson of helping to fix the 1919 World Series, but Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first commissioner of Baseball went against the ruling and banned all eight players including Joe Jackson from baseball for life.)
(3) Eight Men Out, The Motion Picture, www.imdb.com/title/tt0095082/
(4) Harper Lee, Go Set a Watch Man, Harper 2015
(5) Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, J P Lipincott, 1960
(6) Go Set a Watchman, PBS, July 11, 2015
(7) Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Motion Picture, 1939