In the first major review of Harper Lee's hotly anticipated Go Set a Watchman, her follow-up to the classic To Kill a Mockingbird, Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times reveals that Atticus Finch, one of the most beloved characters in American fiction, is depicted as a curmudgeonly racist:
Shockingly, in Ms. Lee's long-awaited novel Go Set a Watchman (due out Tuesday), Atticus is a racist who once attended a Klan meeting, who says things like "the Negroes down here are still in their childhood as a people." Or asks his daughter: "Do you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theaters? Do you want them in our world?"
In Mockingbird, a book once described by Oprah Winfrey as "our national novel," Atticus praised American courts as "the great levelers," dedicated to the proposition that "all men are created equal." In Watchman, set in the 1950s in the era of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, he denounces the Supreme Court, says he wants his home state "to be left alone to keep house without advice from the NAACP" and describes NAACP-paid lawyers as "standing around like buzzards." [The New York Times]
The book has been surrounded by controversy ever since HarperCollins first announced its publication. It comes from a recently "discovered" manuscript that was originally rejected by Lee's publisher, which led to her revising the story in what ultimately became To Kill a Mockingbird, a book that famously hinges on a message of racial equality. There has been persistent suspicion that Lee, 88, was not in full control of her faculties when she signed off on the Watchman project.