I knew that C.S. Lewis and I had more in common than our Christianity when he said, "You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me." Welcome to a celebration of faith, tea, and the written word. I'm always engaged in a book, and whether it's one I'm reading or one of the inspirational historical romances I write, there's always a cup of tea close by. Join me in a cup as we chat about faith, our favorite books and the exciting places our reading and writing adventures take us.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Oh, Atticus! When a Name Deserves Another Chance

It's been a few weeks now since the release of Go Set a Watchman, the highly anticipated "sequel" to (or, as others believe, first draft of) American literary classic To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
Cover of the book showing title in white letters against a black background in a banner above a painting of a portion of a tree against a red background

Who doesn't love To Kill a Mockingbird? And Atticus Finch himself? Father of the heroine, Scout, he's a man of justice, defender of the oppressed, symbol of morality, inspiration to lawyers. He's a righteous man.

Atticus is such an amazing guy, people have named their sons for him; in fact, Atticus was the most popular name for boys in the first half of 2015, according to the LA Times (7/23/15). The name speaks to hip, well-read parents, authenticity, a hope that the compassion exhibited by A. Finch will shine through the new bearers of his awesome name.

I mean, just listen to the guy. He's so wise:

 "If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it."

But now, with the release of Go Set a Watchman, the name Atticus might not be that popular anymore.

Because (SPOILER ALERT, but this is everywhere), in this book, Atticus is not the same old guy. He's a card-carrying member of the KKK. A racist. The opposite of his Mockingbird self.

How upsetting this might possibly be to an Atticus or parent of, who chose the name with care.

Or maybe it won't matter at all. Maybe it was chosen because it sounds good, different, interesting, or strong.

The name Atticus literally mans "man of Attica" and was the name of a Christian martyr burned at the stake with fellow companions--all soldiers--in 310 in Sebaste.
Menologion of Basil 017.jpg
11th century
Clearly, that Atticus was a brave fellow, proclaiming Christ as Lord even though doing so meant death.

Other Atticuses (Attici?) include a fifth century archbishop, two second century philosophers, and a few contemporary actors and musicians. Not to mention those we know and love personally named Atticus, which for me, includes a dog.

But there's no Atticus as dear to our culture, perhaps, than Atticus Finch. According to one article, Finch is #7 in a list of "best fictional characters of 20th-century literature." The American Film Institute voted him "greatest hero in American film" in 2003, as portrayed by Gregory Peck in 1962.

I wonder how our cultural opinions of Atticus will change, with the release of Go Set a Watchman. I have not read it yet, so I can't comment from experience, but the reviews I've seen are not that great. Rumors abound that Lee herself, nearing 90, is somewhat blind and deaf. For decades she did not want to publish another book. Watchman itself is in fact the earliest draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, which was edited and molded for years before publication. Listen to this by Tina Jordan of Entertainment Weekly:

"First, this is all about the money. And second, reading Watchman will forever tarnish your memories of one of the most treasured books in American literature."

The name Atticus may never be as popular as it has been in the last six months, but those Atticuses out there will be ok. They're their own people.

I can't say the same for our mass memories of Atticus Finch. Maybe that's why I haven't read the book yet. Maybe that's why I never will.


Karen Lange said...

It's true, you do learn something new every day! Thanks for the info. TKAM has long been a favorite of mine, and I think I am going to skip reading Watchman. There are so many other books on my TBR pile anyway.:)

Have a great week!

Susanne Dietze said...

I'm skipping it, too, Karen. I want to keep Attitucus the way he was!