Atticus Finch Grows Up.


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Go Set a Watchman actually concentrates more closely on racial politics than the novel with which we are familiar. About one-third of the way into the story, Jean Louise happens onto a pamphlet her father has been reading:

On its cover was a drawing of an anthropophagous Negro; above the drawing was printed The Black Plague. Its author was somebody with several academic degrees after his name.

In Jean Louise’s retelling, the booklet explains how:

the Negroes couldn’t help being inferior to the white race because their skulls are thicker and their brain-pans shallower… so we must all be very kind to them and not let them do anything to hurt themselves.

Her aunt explains that “it’s something your father brought home from a Citizens’ Council meeting.” (The Citizens’ Councils were set up throughout the South in the 1950s to resist school desegregation on both constitutional and racial grounds.) Horrified, Jean Louise rushes down to the courthouse where both her father and her longtime suitor Hank are attending a council meeting at that very moment. As she arrives, Finch is introducing the featured speaker, a certain Grady O’Hanlon, whose speech is summarized as follows:

Mr. O’Hanlon was born and bred in the South, went to school there, married a Southern lady, lived all his life there, and his main interest today was to uphold the Southern Way of Life and no niggers and no Supreme Court was going to tell him or anybody else what to do… a race as hammer-headed as… essential inferiority… kinky woolly heads… still in the trees… greasy smelly… marry your daughters… mongrelize the race… mongrelize… mongrelize… save the South… Black Monday… lower than cockroaches… God made the races… nobody knows why but He intended for ’em to stay apart… if He hadn’t He’d’ve made us all one color… back to Africa…

Jean Louise leaves the courthouse. Shortly afterwards, she vomits.

O’Hanlon’s speech is presented as a miscellaneous collection of broken phrases separated by ellipse. This makes it impossible to evaluate the speaker’s argument, or even know whether he had one. All we are given is an emotional reaction to the coloring of certain phrases.

It is at this point that Miss Lee introduces the anecdote about Atticus Finch defending a black man wrongly accused of rape. Jean Louise cannot understand how the same man could now be attending Citizens’ Council meetings, and assumes that some dramatic change in his character must have taken place. The media reaction to Watchman has been identical; this Atticus Finch is utterly unlike the Atticus Finch of Mockingbird.

Of course, there is no contradiction between supporting segregation and wanting to see an innocent black man acquitted. Despite the impression conveyed by To Kill a Mockingbird, there is no evidence that most Southerners—who certainly supported segregation—wanted to see black people wrongfully convicted.

But Jean Louise thinks her father has “betrayed her, publicly, grossly, and shamelessly” by attending a Citizens’ Council meeting. She got her ideas about the council from New York newspapers. As she recalls:

one glance down a column of print was enough to tell her a familiar story: same people who were the Invisible Empire, who hated Catholics; ignorant, fear-ridden, red-faced, boorish, law-abiding, one hundred percent red-blooded Anglo-Saxons, her fellow Americans—trash. [emphasis added]

An important part of any ideology is how it accounts for dissenters. For racial egalitarianism, this has remained unchanged since Harper Lee wrote Go Set a Watchman: the “racist” is driven by ignorance and fear. This explains away anything a “racist” might say, makes egalitarian ideology unfalsifiable, and prevents communication between believers and unbelievers.

(American Renaissance, July 24, 2015).

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