Sorry, Harper Lee, But I’m Sticking with Scout

watchman-lee

Publisher HarperCollins released the first chapter of Go Set a Watchman, the original manuscript that became To Kill a Mockingbird, one of the most beloved novels in history — and my favorite novel. Harper Lee’s agent “rediscovered” Watchman late last year, and the novel will be formally released on July 14.

Ever since I first heard of its imminent release, I’ve wondered how the new novel might spoil the lovely experience I have each time I read To Kill a Mockingbird. 

Well, from what I now know, it’s a major spoil.

Atticus Finch is a racist in Watchman. You will see the headlines of the reviews that are now coming out describing him as “the dark side,” “racist,” “segregationist,” and the like.

How can this be?

If you read the comments by the readers of the New York Times book review, or any other review, you will find all sorts of explanations: Jean Louise is seeing her father’s true self through adult eyes; Lee is using Atticus to show the true racism of the time; Lee changed her original portrayal of Atticus to make Mockingbird palatable and sellable; this is proof that Truman Capote really did write Mockingbird (a myth perpetuated since it was published); and on and on.

One commenter said, “I feel sorry for all the people who were named after Atticus Finch.”

I knew the novel would be different, but nothing in my imagination came close to what is served up in Watchman. From what I’ve read, the novel takes a literary hero and recasts him as a KKK-supporting bigot.

And Jean Louise “Scout” Finch is all grown up. In the released first chapter, I read about “a sexually liberated woman in her twenties” (the Wall Street Journal’s description) whose brother has died (So long, Jem), and who is being pursued by the man working for Atticus in the law office. The man tells Jean Louise that he wants to marry her. She says they should have an affair while she thinks about it.

I had higher hopes for Scout, too.

Many Mockingbird fans are disappointed. Something so dear to them — an ideal, a hero, a great story — has been destroyed with this release of Watchman. Others are applauding Harper Lee for showing what they think is an honest portrayal of the Southern man of that time. Still others are saying that the release of this work gives good evidence for why, over the past 50 years, both Miss Lee and her sister insisted on not having this manuscript, or any of her unpublished work, released.

As for me?

I’d rather keep the Scout-the-tomboy, father-adoring, Atticus-the-hero, Jem-is-alive-and-well version in my memory and heart.

I prefer to read stories that are uplifting, that give the reader hope and instruction towards the good. If a writer has to fabricate a story with this bent, then let her be. We have plenty of novels, TV shows, daily news, and walking examples that tell “the real story.”

In Mockingbird, a white Southern man is portrayed as caring for the black people in his life. And you know what? There are white Southern men in this country who really do have hearts that are color blind. Let’s write about them, too. I’m okay with having stories that celebrate an ideal and which, hopefully, cause others to want to reach for it in their own lives.

This doesn’t mean that I’m ignoring racism. I know that it is as strong as it has ever been in the United States. I also know that it is going to take God’s reconstruction of the world to bring forth a people who are forever full of lasting love and equality.

In the meantime, I am happy to have the glimpses of His promise in stories like To Kill a Mockingbird.

Back in February, I reserved a copy of Go Set a Watchman through my public library. Five months of waiting. The library ordered 21 copies for its county-wide system. Yesterday I checked and I was number 21 on a list of 277 reserves.

I cancelled my reservation.


 

Darla McDavid

I'm Darla, a writer of stories about family, friends, goodness, and God. I love cats, coffee, gardening, and tall stacks of books. Click here to subscribe to my blog. You can also find me on Facebook and Instagram. In my other life, I'm an administrative professional, a Sunday School teacher for preschoolers, and the proud mother of Dan.

9 Comments Write a comment

  1. I had heard and read the same thing, Darla. Like you, I’ve loved TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD for so long, and read and taught it so many times, that at first I was excited to read GO SET A WATCHMAN. Now I’m not. I know three children who are named from the book’s leading characters–one Scout, two Atticuses–who are wonderful kids, and now this. Onr of the local pre-view writers suggested that there was definitely a reason this book was “lost” for so long; possibly Harper Lee thought better of ever having it published.

    I received a copy of THE MOCKINGBIRD NEXT DOOR: LIFE WITH HARPER LEE by Marja Mills, a Chicago Tribune journalist who meet with Nelle (Harper Lee) and her sister Alice Finch Lee. I’ll let you know what I think of the journalist’s family biography.

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    • So, how did it get published? I don’t want to believe that she was coerced or tricked, and statements from her close friends seem to indicate that she wasn’t. But maybe she was. Or maybe she really thought she was doing the right thing due to the modern day racial tension, thinking that this might help in some way. Will we ever know? Probably not. I hope that this novel fades out of the literary limelight soon. And I hope your little friends named Atticus are protected from these new descriptions of their namesake.

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  2. I just heard about this in the morning news and I was shocked. As you know I enjoyed “To Kill A Mockingbird” but maybe not as much as others like yourself. 🙂 That said, I had higher hopes for the second book, especially for what is going on today. We need unity not something that may divide us. Maybe she did want to display what breeds hatred, or maybe wanted to start conversations on racisim, but I am sadden that she could not do it in another way. Couldn’t you just see Atticus taking on the KKK – or Scout becoming a leading woman bridging the gap perhaps working along side Martin Luther King Jr? When I recently read it I thought Scout was so much like me when I was younger – so I can relate to her but from what you described her as an adult is a person is someone I would not ascribe to grow up to be like.
    I do have to share with you that racisim hit close to home the other day. Growing up in the 60’s and in the military I don’t remember much racisim, our parents shielded us from most unpleasentness, but we knew it was out there. I lived in large cities and diverse neighborhoods. Over the years I always remembered what dad had said, when you are shot (remember Army) color doesn’t matter because we all bleed red; and he taught us respect for others instead of looking at ones skin color or religious beliefs.
    So the other day I was speaking to a young lady who works at my local bank and she was telling me she had to ask all these questions about race and what not on these forms. So we discussed discrimination and how I was glad we are above all of that today and we should not be able to go through all of this. She told me not really, one lady got angry and started on racial slurs not only in front of her but of her coworker who is African American. He is new at the bank and I find it such a joy in getting to know him like I have everyone who has worked there. Now this gal is a little petite thing and one of the sweetest person I know, she said she was so mad at the customer or not she was tempted to reach over and slap her. Afterword she spoke with co-worker, whom I always liked and now more than ever because he said he just ignored her (by the way this was an older woman) and he expects that from the older generation. I thougth he expects it! No one should have to expect it.
    In my own little world I thought the past racial discrimination was over with. I guess it is time for me to step out and realize racism is alive and well. We need more books that will show us a champion for unjustice not something that may divide us.
    Thank you for your input because since I heard about it I have been thinking of canceling my order as well. Maybe some reviews will come out to change my mind and if it does then maybe I will read it. In the mean time I have other books I can purchase to support our family run bookstore!

    Reply

    • If you must read it, then use your local library so that you haven’t wasted your money if you don’t like it.

      I love what your father taught his children. You know, there will always be people in the world who feel superior to others for one reason or another. It’s sad but true, like the situation with your banker friend. Just continue to not be one of them, and pray for the ones who are. That angry lady at the bank showed who truly is the one to be pitied.

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      • God in His goodness has humbled me many times and I find it easier and easier to pray for those who hurt others in words, actions and deeds. Those who are like that young man at the bank, offer us hope. Dad had many issues but he was a loving, caring man to all.
        My thoughts about the new book by Harper Lee, (getting from library) but I will wait to see what the reviews are. I wonder if anyone else is canceling orders. I am going to ask a stupid question, is she still alive? Boy I do need to get out of my bubble more often!!!

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        • Yes, she is still alive, but she’s not in good health. Reports say that she gave her permission for the book’s release, but many are suspicious, especially since it was announced only two months after her sister died. Alice was like a guardian over Harper Lee’s writing.

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          • That would be a possibility, we may never know for sure. There must have been a reason Harper Lee did not want it published years earlier. From what I am hearing I wish they left it hidden.

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  3. We couldn’t agree with you more, Darla. This second book simply stains the beauty of Mockingbird and should never have been published. There are some treasures that needn’t be touched but simply left in their state and integrity to serve as examples of perfect art. I don’t know why they feel as though they have to one up them or change them. We had heard some of the comments about this book and because of it have avoided reading it. To Kill A Mockingbird has made such an impact on both our lives we don’t want that touched or stained by a poor follow-up or after-thought. Great literary post, sharing this now!! 😉

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