Childish Nonsense

Exploring Children's Literature

Hey, Boo

MockingbirdThe recent release of Go Set a Watchman has created a lot more controversy than anyone expected. (Well, maybe those who knew the contents of the newly published novel had some clue about some of the controversy.) And this post is just my opinion. Plus, I have not finished Watchman. I’m reading it a few chapters at a time to let it sink in.

For more than fifty years, Harper Lee would not – or could not – publish a second novel. We can only guess at her motives, which have probably also evolved over the years. It’s entirely possible she knew what a legacy she had created and didn’t want to endure the firestorm of the publication of Watchman.

But let me tell you why I intend to finish Watchman and ignore all the uproar.

I love Atticus Finch. Unconditionally. The fact that he turns out to be a racist SOB does not in any way alter my love for him or change how I feel about Mockingbird.

Within the world of Jean Louise, we are looking at two entirely different narrators in Scout and Jean Louise. The eyes of a six year old and the eyes of a twenty-six year old should not and could not be expected to see the same things. A six year old will often see a beloved parent as a god who lives up to every ideal. A twenty-six year old should see an aged parent as a human being with all the warts and scars of Dorian Gray. A changed view doesn’t begin to excuse all Atticus’ actions, but it can explain them. And Jean Louise doesn’t try to excuse his actions. In fact, she’s appalled by them. Even the outcome of Tom Robinson’s trial is different in Watchman. That can also be attributed to Scout’s rose-colored glasses.

Within the world of Harper Lee, Watchman is very much a first draft. As a writer myself, I see passages on nearly every page that could have been edited better. Mockingbird is rewritten and heavily edited. If anything, this gives me more respect for editors and reminds me of the merits of the traditional publishing route. What if Harper Lee had self-published Watchman?

Within my world, I am reminded that these are works of fiction. Just because I don’t particularly like the new Atticus, that does not mean I can’t still get chills when the people stand for him out of respect in Mockingbird. In many ways, he’s not even the same character. The themes of racism obviously still need to be addressed. And not just in terms of the KKK South. Let’s use Watchman as a springboard to show how even the best of us need to be aware of prejudices and how our backgrounds can make us less than we can be. People like Atticus exist. Whether or not we acknowledge them.

I will continue to love Atticus, especially the one from Mockingbird, and try to help the one from Watchman be a better man.

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