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Atticus Finch will be old and racist in ‘Go Set A Watchman,’ release party at Duck Store this Tuesday



Quick: think of your favorite civil rights attorney from a 20th-century novel who famously crusaded against racism in the Deep South. If you said Atticus Finch, this news may be troubling.

To Kill A Mockingbird‘s follow-up novel Go Set a Watchman, which has invited excitement and skepticism in equal measure, will go on sale this Tuesday, exactly 55 years (almost to the day) since the release of Mockingbird.

The Duck Store (895 E 13th Ave) will host a release party at 3 p.m. this Tuesday, July 14, in the upstairs book section. The first chapter will be read, refreshments served and copies of the book sold for $20.99.

Within a week of the Confederate flag being taken down from the South Carolina capitol building (directly instigated by last month’s mass shooting at a black church in Charleston), Watchman‘s release makes for a particularly interesting event. Mockingbird introduced us to literary icon Atticus Finch, ever-stoic attorney and single dad; possibly the only level-headed adult in Maycomb, Alabama, he imparts vital advice to his children like, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view […] until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Go Set a Watchman focuses on twentysomething Jean Louise Finch (the adult Scout) coming home to Alabama from New York to visit her father. Watchman delivers a profound character development for Atticus, who’s now a surly, 72-year-old man who has attended a Ku Klux Klan meeting and croons to his daughter hateful things like: “Do you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theaters? Do you want them in our world?”

Author Harper Lee, now 88, wrote Watchman back in the mid-fifties, prior to Mockingbird. It was originally rejected by editors, who were more interested in the novel’s flashbacks, which became the catalyst for Mockingbird. The Watchman manuscript was believed to have been lost before it was discovered in a safe-deposit box last August.

The first chapter can be read at The Guardian.

Its title comes from a Bible passage from Isaiah 21:6, which states: “For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.”

Early reviews of Watchman have been mixed. Maureen Corrigan, NPR’s Fresh Air book critic wrote that Watchman “is a troubling confusion of a novel, politically and artistically … it reads much more like a failed sequel.”

“Is it a great or even very good novel? No. Does it have its charms? Definitely,” wrote USA Today‘s book reviewer Jocelyn McClurg.

The New York Times’ Alexandra Alter wrote: “If Mockingbird sugarcoats racial divisions by depicting a white man as the model for justice in an unjust world, then Watchman may be like bitter medicine that more accurately reflects the times.”

 

Follow Emerson Malone on Twitter @allmalone.

 


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Emerson Malone

Emerson Malone

Podcast producer with The Daily Emerald and student research fellow with the UO-UNESCO Crossings Institute.