So I went into this book with a bit of trepidation. I heard all the talk about it; how it doesn’t stand up to To Kill a Mockingbird, how Atticus is an evil old man, how disappointing the whole story is, etc.
I should know better by now not to listen to people…I did end up liking this book in the end though it’s by no means a happy story.
It’s the 1950s and feisty little Scout Finch has grown into womanhood and made a life for herself in New York. She returns to Maycomb for a two-week vacation and is shocked by the apparent changes to the beloved little community…or perhaps it is she that has changed.
At this point in history, the civil rights movement was making inroads into the deep south, much to the displeasure of the more traditional-minded white citizens. Their way of life was once again threatened by them meddlin’ Yankees. With the help of the NAACP, southern blacks were awakening to the fact that they shouldn’t be satisfied with their current second-class status.
Jean Louise is immediately hit with the wave of racial tension that swamps Maycomb and her own family. She is sickened by what she considers racist tendencies of the people she loved, including her idol and beau ideal of a gentleman, Atticus.
Like many readers (and Gregory Peck fans) of To Kill a Mockingbird, Jean Louise is devastated that her seemingly perfect father is flawed. Her world begins to unravel as she begins to question everything she has ever believed, and it is through that moral confusion that Atticus teaches his daughter an important lesson about being true to oneself.
Despite Atticus’ errant viewpoints on race, I do not view him as a bitter, racist old monster, nor harbor resentment to his character (he was a product of his times, after all). In fact, I appreciate the fact that Harper Lee made him human. To me, he became truly real in this book. I think we, like Scout, needed to see that he was not a being to be worshiped, a statue in search of a pedestal. He was imperfect. It was a painful realization for Jean Louise, but a necessary one. It forced her to finally step out of Atticus’ shadow and to start living on her own terms.