Has there been a recently published book that has caused as much of a stir as Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee’s only publication other than the much loved classic, To Kill a Mockingbird? Her “sequel” of sorts has been out for a short while by now, but I waited to write this post until after I finished rereading To Kill a Mockingbird.
I hadn’t read this much-beloved book since freshman year of high school. So, while I remember really liking it, I didn’t recall much else. Well let me tell you, it was even better the second time around! The prose, the characters, everything–phenomenal. That’ll suffice as my review of the book as I’m sure many other people have read it. While I had my reservations about reading GSAW before picking this up again, coming to the last page cemented my conviction to never read that book.
Before I get into the reasons, let me give you the warning that there are some slight spoilers. If you’ve been paying attention to some of the controversy surrounding the book, it likely won’t be anything you haven’t heard.
GSAW was the first “book” she submitted to her editors. What came out of the back and forth process between them and the author resulted it what ended up being published, TKAM. It wasn’t a whole “first I’ll put out the ‘prequel’ and then I’ll bring the story thirty years into the future” kind of thing. In this regard, I see GSAW as a sloppy first draft and TKAM as the polished, perfected final. So why publish it fifty years later? Money-hungry family and lawyers. I don’t think Harper Lee will be around for much longer, so who will see the profits this book brings? You guessed it. I also don’t see why Lee would want to publish a “sloppy first draft” when it was clear the final story she was satisfied with was the book that actually reached the hands of readers many years ago. It’s all just way too fishy to me, and I don’t want to support what sounds like the extortion of a beloved author in her last years.
And along with that whole “sloppy first draft” deal…there’s the issue of Atticus Finch (here comes the spoiler-y part). The Atticus in GSAW is not the one in TKAM. I know that characters can grow and change, but you cannot tell me that a man that set his reputation and safety on the line to defend a black man grew up to be a racist that attends KKK meetings. Nope. Can’t believe it. Atticus was a hero in TKAM. I refuse to read a book that tarnishes that image and ruins my “memories” of him. He has become an icon, a symbol of what it means to stand up for what’s right, even when it’s hard, and Atticus should stay that way.
I even read TKAM with a more critical eye this time around, looking for signs that he was really just suffering from a “white savior” complex, but saw nothing of the sort. Instead, I found this:
“Scout,” said Atticus, “nigger-lover is just one of those terms that don’t mean anything–like snot-nose. It’s hard to explain–ignorant, trashy people use it when they think somebody’s favoring Negroes over and above themselves. It’s slipped into usage with some people like ourselves, when they want a common, ugly term to label somebody.”
“You aren’t really a nigger-lover, then, are you?”
“I certainly am. I do my best to love everybody…”
I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong, but that doesn’t jive with the bitter, racist Atticus found in GSAW. And if there were no signs of that in TKAM, then I don’t think that’s the Atticus Lee wanted to portray. I think her idea of who Atticus was changed in the polishing of her masterpiece. And I think he should stay that way.
Maybe you’ve read GSAW, and maybe you disagree with all this. Maybe you’re like me, and want things in Maycomb to stay as they were. Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts!