July 28, 2015

Rethinking Atticus Finch

In the National Law Journal,  some law faculty discuss the character of Atticus Finch in Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman.

The article begins:

Atticus Finch — unimpeachable lawyer and civil rights champion, or unapologetic racist? Readers have struggled to reconcile these two versions of fiction's most iconic attorney since the July 14 publication of Harper Lee's "Go Set A Watchman," set some 20 years after the events of "To Kill A Mockingbird."

A particularly lively debate broke out within the legal academy, where Finch served as an inspiration for more than a half-century, not to mention a staple of legal ethics courses.

"Over the years, Atticus Finch has remained the most famous, iconic representative of what is good in the legal profession," said Margaret Russell, a ­professor at Santa Clara University School of Law who recommends "Mockingbird" to her students. "My first reaction [to "Watchman"] was, 'Oh no, a hero has fallen.' "

Law professors parsed the new novel on blogs, in op-eds and in conversations with colleagues. Some rejected the Finch presented in "Watchman" — who attended Ku Klux Klan meetings and decries the NAACP — or viewed him as a completely separate character from the Finch in the first novel. Others welcomed a more nuanced and perhaps realistic portrayal of a white attorney in the Jim Crow South.

See also this article, also in the NLJ.

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