Reading Matters

Jean Louise Finch gives Atticus ‘what for’

An excerpt from Harper Lee’s “Go Set A Watchman” (Harper, $27.99).

Jean Louise Finch and her lawyer father Atticus are having a spirited discussion about the plight of black people in Maycomb and in the South generally. Jean Louise is telling her father that he is actually denying that black people are human.

“How so?” Atticus asked.

“You deny them hope. Any man in this world, Atticus, any man who has a head and arms and legs, was born with hope in his heart. You won’t find that in the Constitution, I picked that up in church somewhere. They are simple people, most of them, but that doesn’t make them subhuman.

“You are telling them that Jesus loves them, but not much. You are using frightful means to justify ends that you think are for the good of the most people. Your ends may well be right -- I think I believe in the same ends --but you cannot use people as your pawns, Atticus. You cannot. Hitler and that crowd in Russia’ve done some lovely things for their lands, and they slaughtered tens of milions of people doing ‘em... .”

Atticus smiled. “Hitler, eh?”

“You’re no better. You’re no damn better. You just try to kill their souls instead of their bodies. You just try to tell ‘em, ‘Look, be good. Behave yourselves. If you’re good and mind us, you can get a lot out of life, but if you don’t mind us, we will give you nothing and take away what we’ve already given you.”