The Rocky River Readers Book Club discussed both of Harper Lee’s novels — To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set A Watchman — earlier this week. Little did we know when planning the year’s reading that this discussion would come just three days after Ms. Lee’s death. Illness prevented my attending the meeting but, in light of Harper Lee’s recent death, I wanted to post a blog in tribute to her.
Rereading To Kill a Mockingbird is always a pleasure. One can read it just for the story. One can read it for the skillful writing. One can read it for the slice of American history on which it sheds light. One can even read it for the humor. I tend to forget Scout’s sense of humor between my readings of To Kill a Mockingbird. I love the Scout in that book.
The grown-up urbane Scout/Jean Louise of Go Set a Watchman is not as easy to love. The young adult Scout struggles — really struggles — to understand and accept Atticus. The child Scout put her father on an impossible pedestal. The adult Scout sees prejudices in him that don’t jive with the Atticus of her childhood who withstood public outcry when he represented a black man in court. She is conflicted. Throughout Go Set a Watchman I yearned for her to work through her concerns and not turn her back on Atticus.
Both of Ms. Lee’s novels give as much food for thought and fodder for discussion today as they did when they were hot off the press. Harper Lee set the bar high for great American literature. Her novels will, no doubt, be read in the United States and around the world for centuries to come.
I’m a little slow to add my voice to the national conversation about Harper Lee’s book, Go Set a Watchman, but I finished reading it last week and want to comment on the book.
Some people are afraid Atticus Finch will fall off his pedestal if they read Go Set a Watchman. They refuse to read it because they’ve heard that Atticus turned out to be a racist. Ironically, those people are a bit like Scout. In To Kill a Mockingbird, little Scout idolized her father. He was her world after her mother died when she was a toddler. Atticus was an astute trial lawyer and a wise father. In Scout’s eyes, he could do no wrong. When the young adult Scout came home from New York on the cusp of the Civil Rights Movement, she discovered that Atticus was human. I urge readers who loved the Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird to read Go Set a Watchman. It is another literary masterpiece by Harper Lee. You will struggle along with Scout as you and she discover that Atticus is human.
I’ve heard it said that Harper Lee’s editor read the Go Set a Watchman manuscript and advised Ms. Lee to write a book about Scout’s childhood because she wanted to know about that. That might be true, but I have a hunch that Ms. Lee’s editor sensed that America was not ready for Go Set a Watchman. Times were volatile, and Go Set A Watchman could have been an incendiary book at the time it was written. Perhaps it worked out for the best that we were made to wait until 2015 to read and savor it.
Now I hope someone finds another unpublished manuscript by Harper Lee. Wouldn’t that be a treat?