Just a reminder to all book lovers out there that Harper Lee’s long-lost manuscript, Go Set a Watchman, is now out on bookshelves and in e-book stores all over the world. The story takes place after To Kill a Mockingbird and features Scout and Atticus Finch, but was actually written before Lee’s masterpiece. The publishers wanted something set when Scout was younger and that’s when Lee wrote Mockingbird. She had hand-written the manuscript for Watchman and had thought it lost for decades until it was found last year.
As far as book events go, this is a Star Wars movie, so read it yourself and don’t let positive or negative reviews sway you. This is a publishing event the likes of which there really is no comparison for. Mockingbird is considered by most literary critics (with a brain) to be one of the greatest novels of all-time. It’s almost like a lost Shakespeare play turned up (and don’t think that hasn’t “happened” over the centuries), but this is the real deal. Lee’s prose isn’t something you rip through. Half of the enjoyment of her writing is in her phrasing, so even if you read a paragraph a day, there’s a new Harper Lee book out!
The event is not without controversy, through, primarily because the character of Atticus Finch is not the moral paragon of racial equality the book originally indicates and Gregory Peck’s classic performance in the movie hammered into icon status. This story, which takes place in the 1950’s, has Finch revealed to be pro-segregationist and deeply afraid of what giving full civil rights to African-Americans (which are called “Negroes” in the novel, which is setting off a PC firestorm though it is consistent with Mockingbird and the nomenclature of the fifties ); he’s even have revealed to have attended a Klan meeting once. Having only just downloaded the book, my take is this: Atticus took Tom’s case in To Kill a Mockingbird not because he was really super happy to do it, but because he believed that everyone, no matter the color of their skin, deserved a fair trial. Living in the south at the time he did, I don’t think it’s scandalous he attended a Klan meeting. I think it’s telling he did so ONCE. And Finch’s fears that a new Civil War might arise from giving African-Americans full civil rights and his fleshed out views don’t make him a racist so much as they make him a man from the South who grew up in the early half of the twentieth century. It adds more nuance to the character, in my opinion, that despite being that product of his times-as a lawyer who believed absolutely in the law-he still knew wrong when he saw it in Mockingbird. It comes down to whether you want a moral paragon without blemish or a more realistic product of those times and that place able to rise above the climate to do right when put to the test and still spent the rest of his life still struggling with his ingrained upbringing.
Either way, I don’t believe it diminishes Atticus, and you have to remember that Lee wrote both books and this is how she saw the character. That, Harper Lee, now 89 and living in an assisted living facility, declined all her life to discuss the book, may have prevented us from being more prepared for Atticus as a more torn man on the subject of race. At this time, though, when we are all STILL struggling with a gaping racial wound in this country, it seems more comforting that Atticus Finch struggled and had his downfalls as well. It makes him more the Atticus we need right now for a more complex. racially divided America. Maybe that’s why the book had to wait to now to be published.
PS – Don’t think Hollywood is already scrambling for rights and actors a chance to play Atticus Finch, despite the controversy.