I finished Harper Lee’s book last week and after thinking about it, can finally write how I feel. I read To Kill a Mockingbird in Grade 8, part of our English curriculum. Like most people, I loved the book and saw Atticus Finch as some sort of hero, especially for that time period. It is no wonder the main character, Scout Finch, looked up to him.
My personal copy of Go Set a Watchman
Having already heard about Go Set the Watchman‘s plot – that Atticus Finch is not the “hero” the general public has known him to be (and yes, I cannot picture ANYONE ELSE as Atticus other than Gregory Peck), I headed into the book fairly well-prepared. I was expecting a super-racist Atticus, one who is more than angry at the 1950s, early Civil Rights era. Instead, I found someone who was a bit more…calm. Sure, his attitudes didn’t rest well with Scout (or, should I say, Jean Louise, her proper name), but no matter how incorrect his views are, his relationship with his daughter can resonate with many of today’s generation.
Why do I say this? Imagine Mockingbird with a later setting, say, the 1990s. Say Atticus was not defending a black man accused of raping a white woman, but a gay man accused of sexually assaulting another man, one who may or may not be gay. Same part of the US – south, Christian and conservative. During the trial, he is painted as progressive, one who supports the rights of gays and lesbians – something that was less than “normal” in 1993. Fast forward to 2015 and his daughter, having spent time in New York or California, goes home to find that her dad is upset at the recent US Supreme Court decision supporting same sex marriage. While the main character watches her friends celebrate the decision and change their social media profile photos to reflect the rainbow, she had to sit and listen to her father rant. And I am sure that many of us, especially between 20-something and 40-something, can relate to.
Of course, there are other reasons why some people dislike the book. Some think it’s just a money grabber because Harper Lee, the author, is elderly and might not be fully capable of properly approving its publication (which is, of course, an ethical issue. When the book was announced, some people wondered if the whole publication was even legal, given Ms. Lee’s age and whether she was coerced into allowing the go-ahead). Others are upset because one of their favourite characters in 20th century literature is now flawed (question: Why do these SAME people like Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye so much? That boy HAS ISSUES. And people NAME their sons Holden, yet are worried about their sons named Atticus). In any case, the book was Ms. Lee’s “first draft” of Mockingbird. The publisher wanted extensive changes as the plot was too sensitive for that time (i.e. it wasn’t politically correct) and that a story focusing on Scout’s childhood would be more interesting. If people think that this story is indeed a “sequel” then they are wrong.