Eccentric and Bent

Come on a fantastic voyage in the backwaters of my mind.

Atticus and Me


In my youth, and up until now, I had never read “To Kill A Mockingbird”. I rejected the “classics” because they rejected me and my lived experiences. They were typically written by people on the other side of the tracks. They wrote about the view from the good side of town while my spiritual ancestors came from the Bottoms and the Hollers. I was and am a voracious reader but I read on my terms. I devoured Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Wole Soyinka, Octavia Butler and the like. I endured the casual bigotry of Mark Twain, Stephen King and Elmore Leonard because I enjoyed the way they wove their tales. I read E.A. Poe because I love a dark mind. I read JD Robb/ Nora Roberts because I enjoy the magic she adds to her worlds. I read Sunshine Taylor Reddick/ Stormy Reddick because she is a kickass Sci-Fi writer following in the footsteps of Octavia Butler and Tannarive Due. So I am neither surprised nor disappointed in what folks are discovering in Atticus Finch. What I am curious about is how so many intelligent folks were able to divorce this character from his era. As an outsider looking in, I wonder if this is why they can’t see the casual bigotry and, in some cases, the outright racism of their contemporaries. Is this why they disregard the reports of POC who have been victimized by bigotry? Are they, like me, so invested in seeing themselves in the protagonist that they cannot fathom a flawed multi-faceted character who may harbor ill feelings about those lower in the hierarchy? Maybe this new book in the Finch canon brings up uncomfortable feelings about self. I don’t know because as I’ve stated I never read the book. The only comparison I have is the ongoing saga of Bill Cosby.
I watched all of his TV shows. I ate jello pudding pops because he endorsed them. I dreamed of going to an HBCU because of his influence. I disagreed with many of his speeches on Black Americans. And I now believe that he is a serial sexual abuser. I was able to divorce the man from the characters he played. I can enjoy the entertainment without turning the man into a false idol. He came from the era of respectability politics. While I do not respect Bill Cosby, I enjoy Cliff Huxtable.
I say all of this to say, we all look for ourselves in the characters we fall for. But those characters are just sketches of life in a particular time and space. They are reflections of us but they aren’t us. Reality is much more complicated. As such, we should never be surprised when they reflect our own ugliness back at us.
By the way, because of the uproar of the new Finch book I will be picking up both tomes. I want to see if there was casual bigotry that was overlooked in the first book that should have clued folks in to the fact that Atticus was as rabidly racist as his era.

Emily C. Heath

I read “To Kill a Mockingbird” the summer between 8th and 9th grade. It was a hot, Southern summer and my mom and I went into a bookstore to look for some indoor reading. She bought me the book, and I took it home and devoured it.

I was transformed, both in a moral and literary sense. I would never forget the idea that standing up for the right thing, even when you know you are going to lose, is noble.  And, in no small part due to that book, I became an English major. (I had entered college as a pre-law student, but once I realized that I couldn’t be Atticus Finch, I gave that up.) Even today, when I’m asked to list my favorite novels, Harper Lee’s book is on the shortlist.

We even have a cat named “Atticus”.

So when I heard about “Go Set a Watchman”…

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