Tackling Tin Gods

I took the plunge and read the book!

After all the hype and the “Don’t think I can bear it if it’s not as good as To Kill a Mockingbird!” I jumped in anyway. Last week on the day of its release, my husband presented me with a copy of Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee’s second novel. I was so excited I squealed out loud and proceeded to display my gift to anyone within a 2 mile radius.

“Look!” I said. “I can’t wait to get home and start reading it!”

Those within 2 miles seemed less impressed. Either they thought I was weird for squealing over a book they’d never heard of, or, and this was the majority, they were scared to read it. That’s right. Scared.

I was agog.

“What do you mean, ‘scared’?” There was even a late night email exchange between teachers.

It seems that those who had read and loved To Kill a Mockingbird were afraid they would be disappointed – disappointed either in the plot or the quality of the writing but, more than that, they were afraid that Atticus wouldn’t be Atticus. Now those of you who have either read the book or watched the film know what I mean. For those who don’t, Atticus is the father of Jean Louise Finch (Scout). A lawyer living in Southern Alabama in the 1930’s, he’s a wise, good and noble man who defends a black man wrongly accused of a terrible crime. The jury is all white. The world loved Atticus Finch even before Gregory Peck sealed the deal, performing the lead role in the 1962 film version of the novel.

Without causing any spoilers, the Atticus of Go Set a Watchman is indeed different but we do need to bear in mind that while the novel has been publicised as a sequel, it is in fact a first draft in which the publishers saw a different story. While I believe they were right to urge Lee to re-write, I don’t believe this makes the story inferior and nor do I believe readers will come away believing Atticus to be the dreadful bigot we begin to suspect.

The title of the novel comes from Isaiah 21:6 in an oracle against Jerusalem. In the novel it alludes to Atticus’ role as the moral agent of his time and Jean Louise’s disillusionment with the man she saw as a god growing up. Jean Louise’s journey is the reader’s journey. She turns and tackles the ‘tin god’ she had made of Atticus and readers must do the same. He is neither a god, nor Gregory Peck (sorry girls!)

So what’s the point of a novel review as a blog post? Simply this. After finishing the novel I was reflecting on Atticus’ humanity in all its flawed reality. I questioned whether I had made a tin god of my equally wise, good and noble father (a true and absolute gentleman by the way). I wondered about my expectations of others and how unrealistic and unfair some of these might be. And I was reminded that I am no man’s (or woman’s) judge.

What’s great is that in the end, Jean Louise chooses to see the good and chooses to love despite the imperfection. What an example to us. When we are disappointed, even shocked, by the flaws in others we have never been previously aware of, by the raw and sin affected nature of humanity, let’s choose to see as God sees – as hard as that may be. Not the disappointing and unreliable but the redeemed – the restored – perhaps even the reconciled.

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