Archive for August 10th, 2009

The Perils of Tolerance: Atticus Finch vs. John Brown

Malcolm Gladwell must really think he’s untouchable now, because he has taken to slamming the previously unslammble, Atticus Finch, in the latest issue of The New Yorker.

Atticus Finch, the hero of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, seems like a paragon of nobility and virtue. He is a single father who still manages to give his kids, Scout and Jem, one of best fictional parentings in all of literature. He defends a wrongly accused black man, Tom Robinson, despite the stigma it brings. Legal scholar Steven Lubet claims that, “No real-life lawyer has done more for the self-image or public perception of the legal profession than the hero of Harper Lee’s novel.” He is even described as having “Christ-like goodness and wisdom.”

I, for one, have never been a big fan of Mockingbird, having never even finished it in high school. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s line in Capote— “Frankly, I don’t see what all the fuss is about”—really resonates with me. Nevertheless, even I think Finch is pretty irreproachable.

Gladwell’s point, however, is that Finch represents a brand of Southern liberalism that wasn’t uncommon in that era, and possibly kept Jim Crow alive longer than it would have survived on its own. Finch himself is decidedly not a racist, but he co-exists with bigotry that would be considered reprehensible today. Just as Finch is rational and compassionate about the case of Tom Robinson, he is rational and compassionate about the racism that exists in his community. He tells his daughter that it is not okay to hate those in Maycomb who would wrongfully condemn Robinson because it is never okay to hate anyone (even Hitler). Continue reading

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Monday Medley

What we read while we didn’t have access to our precious tweets:

  • We spent a lot of the last couple weeks writing about Funny People (see: here, here, and here); The New York Times devoted a front-page (of the Arts section) story to a comedian not generally considered one. And yes, seeing Tom Arnold in The New York Times is as disconcerting as you’d expect.