On July 14, 2015, a man, who helped shape my life, betrayed me by becoming everything I believed he wasn’t. When I was an adolescent, he taught me that sometimes the right thing is to pursue something even if failure is inevitable. I remember him sitting me down and telling my naïve heart that one should never hurt the innocent. Because of him, I realized that I could never fully understand other people if I did not emphasize with others and place myself in their skin. This man and I parted ways for a while, but I was finally able to return to him on one earth-shattering afternoon.
At first, the only apparent change was this man’s age; his aged face made him appear even more endearing. It was so nice to see him again; however, rumors began to spread about this man, who I thought could do no wrong. I finally worked up the gusto to confront him, and the unimaginable became my horrific reality—my hero, Atticus Finch was a bigot and a racist.
It only took one chapter from Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee to completely shake my entire world. This Atticus was not the same as the Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird. My role model, teacher and friend was not only gone; his entire character rejected everything he had once so fervently stood for.
I have been deceived by various people in my earthly life, yet it was Atticus’ bigotry and complete change for the worst that caused me to feel more wronged and betrayed that I had ever felt in my entire existence. This fictional character, this man made up of words, caused me to feel more upset and hurt than the unreliable and intolerant people that I encounter on a regular basis. These perplexing emotions about Atticus showed me the true weight and power of an impactful and well-done story. I know several people, like myself, who live life through stories Whether these tales are told through books or film is not the issue; the main point is that perhaps we consider the integrity and sacredness of a story more than we value the character of people in our actual lives.
It is common knowledge that people hurt people, and for me, this truth has been engrained in my brain through my parents’ life lesson lectures and my own experiences; however, books and stories always served as an avenue for me to escape human pain. C. S. Lewis once said that stories have the power to paint happiness under incompatible conditions. Literature brings me endless joy, release, and comfort, and that is why I felt more betrayed by Atticus than people I personally know.
We know humans, the familiar and the strangers, are somewhat imperfect and act improperly at times; for our favorite literary characters, we expect them to be perfectly fitting. We expect them to be better than us; we want and need them to be. When an author gives a character a more realistic and “human” ending, we may become so upset and enraged because we think that defeats the point of fiction. Fiction is supposed to rise above reality to create something of more valuable, something timeless, something profound; however, according to my English professors, the point of fiction is to defamiliarize the familiar in order for us to see ourselves and our world in a new light. For me, Atticus was my illusion of what stories should be like, and I wish with every molecule in my being that he could have remained on a pedestal. Unfortunately, that is now impossible. I must allow Atticus leave the trophy case; so he can join the rest of the human race.