Years ago, a woman told me that her husband was “my Atticus Finch,” someone who she could admire and count on in every way.
I was vaguely disturbed at the time by the comparison, but I marked it down to jealousy, because the man was once a romantic rival. At the time of the conversation, the woman was defensive about having married him, so she seemed to feel the need to explain — very unconvincingly — why he had been the right choice for her.
I later realized what had bothered me about the comparison. It wasn’t just that I was jealous — though there was that — but something rang false about what she was saying. It was clear to me that she had placed him on a pedestal as this ideal character in this particular way — and she was clinging to that two-dimensional vision to justify something she was dreadfully unhappy with.
(To be fair, she would probably disagree with my interpretation. We all have our own narratives about the past. But I think the evidence supports me on this. Even though she will never read this, I would feel as though I were doing her a disservice not to be clear that she wouldn’t accept my interpretation of the path she took.)
I thought back to that discussion Friday afternoon as I read the New York Times review of “Go Set a Watchman,” the book Harper Lee wrote about the characters from “To Kill a Mockingbird” even before she wrote her classic novel.
In the new version of Atticus, he’s a far more three-dimensional character. He’s the same loving father, but he’s flawed. He exhibits a lot of the racism one might expect from a small-town lawyer in the South of the 1950s. He’s still the loving father at 72 years old that had been described in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” but he’s not a saint. He’s a balanced character with good and bad sides.