White Savior/White Supremacist: Atticus Finch in Maycomb County and the United States

Novak, Katherine, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Rody, Caroline, English, University of Virginia

Atticus Finch has remained, over sixty years after his initial introduction to the public, a seemingly ubiquitous symbol of U.S. values. I have met pets named Atticus; legal journals have used Atticus as an example and case study for decades, with many lawyers citing him as their inspiration in their choice of profession; and To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) is standard reading for many U.S. middle and high schoolers. The Pulitzer Prize and Academy Award winning success of Mockingbird in print and on screen has secured the story a lasting presence in classrooms and homes for generations. From PBS’s “The Great American Read” to Oprah Winfrey, To Kill a Mockingbird’s recognition as a national treasure speaks to the novel’s lasting impact on U.S. culture. The novel’s publication aligned well with industry trends, and the book and movie together succeeded contemporaneous to the Civil Rights Movement. Mockingbird’s follow-up, Go Set a Watchman (2015), was published as white nationalism in the United States became increasingly prominent, with groups within the alt-right rising to national attention the same year Watchman hit shelves. The visibility of such hate groups coincides with Watchman’s renewed affirmation that Atticus, and Maycomb County, may be on the wrong side of history. Watchman and current social movements reframe Mockingbird and its characters to more accurately reflect who the Finches have been all along, and why so many have wanted to embrace them.

MA (Master of Arts)
Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee, White Savior
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
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