GO SET A WATCHMAN - IS ATTICUS RACIST? includes spoilers.
I've just finished reading "Go Set A Watchman" by Harper Lee. It seems many people have been put off reading the book as the press and many reviews have labelled Atticus Finch a racist, and most of us would prefer to remember him as the literary hero in "To Kill a Mockingbird" who stands up for what is right. However, having read the book, I don't think that Atticus was racist after all.
The views he expresses in the book are, I would stress, very racist indeed, and if they were genuinely held then any respect you might have had for his character would have been shredded. This is why his daughter feels so shocked and betrayed when she hears him expound views on race which are abhorrent to all right-minded people.
The point, however, is that they are not his genuine views. As his brother explains to Jean Louise towards the end of the novel:
"You were like an emotional cripple, leaning on him, getting the answers from him, assuming that your answers would always be his answers.....He had to kill you to get you functioning as a separate entity".
It is clear, then, that Atticus expounds racist views to force his daughter to disagree with him. This is confirmed by Atticus himself when he speaks with her: Ikilled you, Scout. I had to."
The fact that Atticus' motives for taking this stance are altruistic (to "cure" his daughter of her over-dependence upon him, even at the risk of losing her) does not in itself mean that the views he expresses are not genuinely held, of course, and I must admit to having to read the penultimate chapter twice to get clues as to whether he is genuinely a racist. Having done so, I think it is pretty clear that he is NOT. My reasons for saying this are:
1) Her uncle tells her "you're very much like him, but you're a bigot and he's not."
2) He also tells her, "people don't agree with the Klu-Klux Klan but they certainly don't try to prevent them from puttin' on sheets and making fools of themselves in public." So Atticus toleration of racist views in others does not mean that he shares those views himself.
3) When Scout apologizes to her father for calling him racist, he replies "I can take anything anybody calls me so long as it's not true".
4) But by far and away the main reason is her reaction to her father after speaking with her uncle: "Oh God, what have I done?" She was ready to cut off all relations with her father when she thought he was racist. It is clear from her complete volte-face and the restoration of good relations with her father that she must be convinced that he was not racist and that the whole episode had been a device to "kill" her emotional dependence upon him. After all, she refuses to take back her "boyfriend" for not having the guts to stand up to the racist community, even though he has no racist views of his own, so the suggestion that she would still stay on good terms with Atticus if she remained convinced that he was racist seems incredible and too far-fetched.
There is some ambiguity in the book - as mentioned above, I had to read the penultimate chapter twice to consider whether Atticus' views were genuinely held, whatever his motives were for advising his daughter of them.
Ironically, Atticus seems to be the Tom Robinson of this book, accused of something he has not actually done with few people ready to defend him. But look closely at that penultimate chapter and the very end of the chapter before and in my view it becomes clear that - just like Tom Robinson before him - Atticus is not guilty. And a literary hero emerges with his reputation tarnished but his integrity intact.