Summer Reading update

Wow, I thought I was ready for anything out of Go Set a Watchman, but I was not expecting her to start quoting from Gilbert and Sullivan. Longtime readers will know how happy this makes me.

I haven’t read the entire book yet. I just opened it at random when I got my copy. So this is not my real review, but I’m going to follow Thingy’s lead and give my opinion on the whole Atticus Finch issue without having read all of it.

I’ve heard and read a lot of people reading into the “meaning” of Atticus’s change; saying it shows the book is about disillusionment, fallen idols.  Other people are saying it ruins their love for the character in the original book.

Here’s the thing: Watchman is a first draft of Mockingbird.  The fact that the Atticus character changed from the first draft to the finished product doesn’t necessarily have an artistic meaning; it just means Harper Lee wanted to rework the character’s assigned function.

To a reader, characters are people–we react emotionally to them as we would to real people, and judge them as we would real people. To an author, though, a character is also a tool for fulfilling some larger role in the story.  It might be that they are there to convey a theme, or sometimes just to drive the plot. A good writer, like Lee, disguises the fact that these characters are cogs in a machine by making them seem very human and real, but that’s still what they are: platforms for conveying relevant themes/plot points/emotions. And sometimes, when you are editing something, you say: “Hmm, I need to change what characters are assigned what functions–what if I assign function x to character z instead of character y?”

From what I’ve seen, it looks like Lee just changed what the Atticus character’s function was between the first draft and the final version. In modern lingo, the character in Mockingbird is the Atticus Finch “reboot”.  And it’s a mistake to read this as character “development”.  Characters do sometimes change their personalities over the course of a story to suit a narrative or thematic point–in fact, that’s a hallmark of good writing.  But it’s not what we’re talking about here.  This is just a straight-up rewrite from what I can see.

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