Do you remember the first time you realized your father didn’t have all the answers? I do. I was in college and I disagreed with my dad about something (I don’t remember what it was) but that was the first time I realized “whoa, he doesn’t know everything and neither do I.” That is what I thought about after reading this new Harper Lee book.
There’s a lot being said about this highly anticipated installment, and much discussion focuses on parts of the book that make people so angry. It was always going to be this way. You can not have a sequel to a literary classic come out decades later under somewhat questionable circumstances and not have everyone automatically hate it. People were never going to be able to separate their biases because To Kill a Mockingbird has been an entire culture’s moral compass, and the yard stick literature is held up against since it’s inception.
The largest obstacle to this is the oft-spoiled character of Atticus Finch, himself. He who has served as a paragon of truth and justice for so many years is not as we remember him. However, I believe we need to recognize something. In To Kill a Mockingbird, we never saw the whole picture. We were watching things through the eyes of a child, and that experience didn’t exist in a cultural vacuum. Scout saw her father as the greatest of men, so that is how we saw him. She saw the world in black or white, racist or advocate, without recognizing there is a large spectrum that humans fit into. In this novel, we are seeing him as he is now, and likely how he always was: a man living in the South, trying to live his life the best he can in accordance to his beliefs and love of justice. Imperfect. Complicated.
But now we have to try and put aside the pedestal the original is sitting on, to see these characters without decades of baggage. For if you go into this book looking for all the ways it lacks compared to a timeless classic, you will find them. I went into this book looking to revisit a character that I fell in love with as an adult within the first 15 pages. I wanted to revisit the literary style of Harper Lee, with her uncanny ability to vividly portray a world that we hope no longer exists, but must recognize it still does. I implore you to read it to see how Scout has grown up and become her own woman, with thanks to the man that raised her to be exactly as she is, which is a beautiful thing indeed.
After reading and loving so very much about it, I have come to the conclusion they made the right choice in rejecting this book originally, forcing Harper Lee to delve into Scout’s past. Through that, we were given the Atticus Finch we needed, a paragon of virtue in a volatile time. But I also think this is the Atticus Finch we need now, serving as a painful reminder there is still so much to fight for, and we need to see in ourselves the prejudices we have always had, but never see clearly enough.
You can download a sample or purchase Go Set a Watchman by clicking here.