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The countryside and the train had subsided to a gentle roll, and she could see nothing but pastureland and black cows from window to horizon. She wondered why she had never thought her country beautiful. . . . The train clacketed through pine forests and honked derisively at a gaily-painted bell funneled museum piece sidetracked in a clearing. It bore the sign of a lumber concern, and the Crescent Limited could have swallowed it whole with room to spare. Greenville, Evergreen, Maycomb Junction.
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The story related is simple, and suspiciously self-referential—it’s difficult to credit that a first novel would so blithely assume so much familiarity with a cast of characters never before encountered. Scout, the child heroine of “Mockingbird,” now mostly called by her proper name of Jean Louise, comes back to Maycomb from New York, where she is engaged in some undefined career-girl enterprise. For most of the first few chapters, she is fending off her lowborn but well-meaning suitor, Henry Clinton, and fighting with her tight-assed and conventional aunt Alexandra.
The Southern Agrarians—it was part of their complexity—didn’t see themselves as racists; quite the opposite. (Robert Penn Warren certainly more than made his peace with the civil-rights movement.) They saw themselves merely as cautious and watchfully conservative about the pace of change. That the pace of change had to be accelerated because it had been held back by terror for so long was not a truth that they wished to be told, or to see. Atticus’s attitude seems entirely authentic, his heroism and his prejudices, as so often with actual human beings, part of the same package. Credibility is the ethic of fiction, and he is a credible character.