It’s a common complaint of fans that adaptations aren’t really as good as the books. Not everything in a novel can make it into a film. Themes, characters, and scenes are inevitably cut for the sake of running time. Even still, I didn’t expect the Broadway remake of To Kill a Mockingbird to be such a radical departure from the original. Playwright Aaron Sorkin did far more than translate the play for a modern audience. He took a hatchet to the play’s moral heart: the beloved father and lawyer, Atticus Finch.

Few literary characters are as admired as Atticus. In the book, he is a paragon of virtue and a loving father. He vigorously defends the wrongfully accused Tom Robinson and speaks out against the racism of the town. Atticus sees people for more than their racism. He sees their alcoholism, their poverty, their ills, and withholds absolute judgment on their character. Their hatred is a kind of madness that overtakes otherwise reasonable people. Mr. Cunningham, a leader of a midnight lynch mob, Atticus deems to be “basically a good man [who] has his blind spots along with the rest of us.” The more you understand someone, consider things from their point of view and walk in their skin, the more sympathy you have for them and are able to treat them with grace and understanding. It is precisely this outlook that the play of To Kill a Mockingbird seeks to overturn.

The play exaggerates Atticus’s views to prove a point; he is simply naive about people and their racism. His naivety is part of the problem, not the solution. Time and time again, Atticus’s generosity toward the evils of others is met by opposition from the maid, Calpurnia, and his defiant son, Jem. He “turns the other cheek”; they want to fight. When he empathizes with others, they insist that he is viewing the world with rose-colored glasses. The play even goes so far as to makes Atticus complicit in Tom Robinson’s death. When Tom Robinson is initially offered a plea deal—18 years in jail to avoid a trial, Atticus convinces Tom not to take it because he believes they will win. The Atticus of the play repeatedly insists that he has a winning case, believing that the good people of Maycomb could be swayed by sound reason.

Much is made of the play’s giving voice to the book’s black characters, and we are frequently given a window into Calpurnia and Atticus’s arguments. She is the moral voice of the play, and when she declares that the jurors who convicted Robinson were “monsters” before they ever walked into the courtroom, Atticus changes his mind and agrees with her. This Atticus gets in a fight with one of Robinson’s false accusers, Bob Ewell. And unlike the book, Atticus takes part in the cover-up of Ewell’s death because he does not believe that Boo Radley will get a fair trial, even keeping his daughter Scout in the dark.

The play uses the criminal proceedings of Tom Robinson to put Atticus himself on trial, and by the end he isn’t the same person. Atticus used to think that racists were redeemable. He used to think that everyone had their blind spots and that empathy was the key to renewal. By the end, Atticus sees that racists are not diseased people that can be cured, but monsters for whom there is no hope. There is no use in persuasion, only power and those who wield it.

I’ve always thought Aaron Sorkin to be ill-equipped to address issues outside of his political commentary wheelhouse. The weakest episodes of The West Wing were always the ones that dealt with religion, and the same is true here, where rhetorical points scored aren’t ever interrogated for their implications. By the end of the play, Sorkin’s protagonists are guilty of the same dehumanization of others he so detests in Tom Robinson’s accusers. Irredeemable monsters aren’t people, and it’s worth asking whether Sorkin thinks they should simply be killed off like Bob Ewell.

The liberties the play takes with the book say much more about our own time and whether people have given up entirely on empathy and the art of persuasion. Shouting matches on social media are more combat than listening to others. Rather than appealing to a set of shared ideals as a roadmap for handling new problems, stigmatization has instead become the weapon of choice for many as dissenting voices are marginalized and fracturing communities increasingly become monolithic. Progress, it seems, is really just a matter of the right people holding power.

Sorkin doesn’t realize it, but the Atticus Finch of the book is the precise antidote for us in our divided times. Atticus takes the time to look past transgressions to their real infirmity, seeing precisely how people are in captivity to sin. We do not love the toddler throwing a tantrum because they are cute, but because we recognize that they are not free to do otherwise. Such sympathy leads to charity. People can change, just not as quickly as we might need or in the way we think. Coercion or force looks like the straightest distance between two points just as grace appears to be reckless, if not dangerous. Atticus always viewed the conviction of Tom Robinson to be a sad, foregone conclusion, but the delay of the jury decision was a surprise and “the shadow of a beginning.” One juror even wanted to acquit — one of the same Cunninghams who took part in the lynch mob. If Atticus can teach us anything, it’s that real progress is not won by threats, but grace, and enemies become friends when swords are beaten into plowshares.