I must admit that I have not yet read To Kill a Mockingbird. I saw the movie and the book is on my “to read” list. But then again, so are a couple thousand other books. And I realize that movies don’t do books justice, so I will read it. And now that I have read “Go Set a Watchman”, it has moved higher up on the must get to list.
I’m not sure what I expected with this book, only that it wasn’t what I thought I should have expected. It was quite slow in getting around to some of the main themes of the book. Much of the book fills you with the atmosphere, the people, the customs, the history and the unique level of interactions that is distinctly Southern. Having been raised by a father that was born and bred in a small town in Georgia and spending many years of my childhood surrounded by his family, I became all to familiar with these types of ways.
The central character of the book is Scout or Jean Louise (gotta love the South’s use of double names), daughter of Atticus Finch, who has returned home from her life in New York City. The story is a slow awakening of the racial bias in all its complexities that existed at the time of de-segregation, and even persist today. Actually, it goes even further than the racial bias, but also covers the social and gender bias.
The book offers a unique and interesting perspective on the thoughts and culture of America’s South. A perspective that still holds to a large degree today in many areas, as is evident by the popularity of the rhetoric of many of the politicians emerging from this area.
But, the thing that is unique in this book is the way it is presented to you. The issue is not just black and white and there are no real “good guys” or real “bad guys”. They are humans, many of which believe they are acting for the greater good, attempting to preserve what they believe is a way of life they are entitled to. In fact, many don’t even see their prejudice for what it is. They see it as watching over “less fortunates”. And this does not, by any means, excuse bigotry in any way. It simply gives you a peek inside the heads of many of these people and seeing there are many shades of gray in there. And as inexcusable their bigotry is, there is also immense decency in them. The truth is, they are not unlike many other people who truly believe they are doing good when their acts diminish and marginalize others. People of faith, and most of these are, believe it is their duty to watch over and guide those that don’t share their beliefs, look different, etc. They hold a class structure that they will often deny. And a belief that one can only rise so far above one’s origins. So often through the book was peppered the line, “Love who you want, but marry your own kind.”
And I give Harper Lee credit for also turning the mirror effectively back the other way when she had Scout called a “bigot” and offered the definition, “a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices;especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance” For, when we close the doors of communication through failing to hear, to understand, no matter how right our cause, we will doom it to failure. The world didn’t become the way it is overnight, nor shall it change overnight. And part of changing it is to understand it with empathy and respect.
It’s a coming of age, a God busting, religion busting, hero busting, blinders shattering journey. Others refer to it as rough around the edges in comparison to To Kill a Mockingbird, but I think that gives it more power. Because, the emergence from the shroud of our youth can be a very messy and rough journey. I don’t know what the criteria is for a Pulitzer for a novel, so I have no idea if this one qualifies. But, it is an amazing work of writing that makes you at least glance at the world through the eyes of another and shows you nuances and hues you had previously missed.