Disclaimer: I have never read “To Kill a Mockingbird” – I could never get into it – but I saw the movie starring Gregory Peck as lawyer Atticus Finch.
Our story: In “Watchman”, Scout, Atticus Finch’s daughter, is now better known by her grown-up name, Jean Louise Finch. She is 26 and works in New York. Twice a year she goes back home, to the Jim Crow South, to visit her father, now in his 70s. On one such visit, presumably in the summer of 1954, the scales fall from her eyes and she sees how racist her home town is. And it is not just the town, it is her boyfriend, her aunt, her uncle, people she knows from high school, and even her own father, Atticus Finch himself, who back in the 1930s defended a Black man accused of raping a White woman – because he believes in justice for all.
She wonders if something is wrong with her, but no, even people who never said the N-word before are saying it now. Calpurnia, the Black servant who brought her up from the age of two, is now overly polite with her. Her father has joined a White citizens’ council, defending Jim Crow. She finds out he used to be in the Klan too. Go along to get along, it seems.
Spoiler warning: I am about to give away the ending.
The book builds towards a showdown with her father, which comes in chapter 17, by far the best part. She calls out his hypocrisy. Despite all his fine words, he believes Blacks are subhuman. She calls him all kinds of names. It was glorious.
But then, a chapter later, she caves. Ugh. While she is packing her bags to leave town for good, her uncle hits her, almost knocks her out, saying, “I am trying to attract your attention.” According to him, she is the true bigot, someone with fixed, unbending ideas. She lacks the maturity and humility needed to live in the South. Oh, is that what it is? She needs to ease up on her father and the other (White) people in town. They are only human, with human hearts and human failings. Her father is not the tin god she made him into as a girl. Grow up! Then he makes a triple literary allusion. She falls for it.
She accepts her father as a mere human. They make up. The End.
What a cheap ending! And one that seems to write off racism as a mere human failing.
Not to worry: Her publisher back in 1957 did not like it either. They had her rewrite it, hanging it on the rape trial in the 1930s, making Atticus Finch into a White Saviour fantasy figure. Oh, and they changed the title: “To Kill a Mockingbird”.
– Abagond, 2017.