I had heard some rumors about the book painting Atticus in a completely different light and that it bothered people. First, it's important to remember that this book was written before Mockingbird and was published as is. Second, the seeming contradiction is exactly why I loved it.
I can relate so much to how Jean Louise (Scout) felt. I realized that although I'm no Southern gal nor a tomboy, I have much in common with her. We both are tied to the place where we grew up but do not fit in there nor desire to return permanently. We both grew up idolizing a family member only to have that image broken once we became an adult.
At that time, it was very disappointing and hurtful for me (though not as crushing as it was for Jean Louise in the book). However, what I've since learned from personal study and therapy, and as this book expresses at the end, is that everyone is human, sometimes people change and sometimes we just don't see them how they really are, and we all need to establish our own personal identities separate from those we love and admire. These are truths to which everyone can relate.
Everyone Is Human
To be human means to be imperfect. It means to have weaknesses and to be inconsistent. Even the most noble of God's children are prone to make errors, even ones that may seem out of character for those people. I love how President Dieter F. Uchtdorf put it: "If you define hypocrite as someone who fails to live up perfectly to what he or she believes, then we are all hypocrites." No one on earth lives up to 100 percent of his or her ideals 100 percent of the time. It's also important to remember that just because people are strong in one area--or many--doesn't mean they are perfect in all areas or don't have room to grow in their strengths.
We may find this frustrating or upsetting, but as Elder Jeffrey R. Holland so wisely said (as he always does), "[Be] kind regarding human frailty . . . . Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we."
Can't argue with that.
Humans Are Dynamic
Most people undergo changes throughout their lives as they go through new experiences and learn new ideas. Some changes are for the better, and some for the worse. Sometimes it happens quickly, but usually it happens slowly and undetected until all of a sudden it's noticeable and catches us by surprise. Either way, it's unfair and silly to expect others to always remain the same, especially for our own comfort.
On the other hand, sometimes it is our fault for not seeing people as they really are, whether that means putting someone on a pedestal from which to crash down when he or she deviates from our expectations, or being purposely deceived by others. Everyone agrees the latter is wrong, but so is the former. When people are perceived as being more saintly or wise than they really are, and they don't want to be perceived that way, it limits them. It doesn't allow them to be weak, wrong, or fallible, because when they are, they lose support or damage the feelings of those who looked up to them. (I feel this way sometimes with people who have put me on a pedestal and have only given me one direction in which to go: down.)
This is why the scriptures remind us not to rely on the "arm of the flesh." Humans progress and regress, and are therefore unreliable. The only beings who are always constant, unchanging, and steady are Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. We can always depend on Them for love, help, and truth.
Humans Are Individuals
Jean Louise's uncle realizes that his niece's internal war isn't just about her father. It's also about her own identity. She had attached her identity to her father's, and now that she was discovering the two were not the same, she had to break free and become her own person. In this way, I relate to her the most.
It slowly began once I became a mother. Everything I had spouted out before that were things others had put into my head and I regurgitated. (It's how I got nothing below an A- my whole educational career. I learned to do and say what the teachers wanted me to do and say instead of actually understanding and applying the material. Not that that was always the case!) Then I began to be exposed to new ideas and practices. I read about them, tried them out, and decided they fit who I am and how I think, and more important, they worked for my children. Now the way I parent is by choice and not by expectation or habit (well, I try, anyway).
I've experienced similar transformations in all my beliefs during my adult years. I've found that I do have particular political philosophies and that certain topics are more important to me than others. I've discovered some of my doctrinal understandings were incomplete or outright incorrect, whereas others I've come to comprehend even more fully than before. I've sorted through multiple ideas and behaviors into those which work for me and reflect who I am and those which do not, regardless of what others think or think I should think.
That last part is the most difficult. Not everyone is happy or supportive when you come into your own identity and establish your individuality. It takes courage to stand up for yourself. I remember during one therapy session, my therapist said he wished I would tell him sometime that what he was saying was "a load of BS." He wanted to see me be assertive and vocal about something instead of always agreeing. (In my defense, he has yet to say something that would necessitate such a strong response.) Similarly, Atticus is actually proud of Scout when she stands up to him.
Unfortunately, we don't always have such a positive outcome when we try to express our true selves. It's a shame, because that is the beauty of being a child of God. He somehow made each of His billions of children unique. It reminds me of snowflakes. I am left in wonder and awe that regardless of how much snow falls around the world year round, not a single snowflake is the same, nor ever will be. Each has the same basic structure and properties, but each also has its own design and beauty.
A Perfect Pair
Go Set a Watchman helped me understand To Kill a Mockingbird better and see it through an adult's eye instead of a child's. The characters weren't ruined for me, but magnified. I highly recommend you read it and see it for what it is: not a sequel (or prequel) to a book beloved worldwide, but a deeper look into what it means to be human.