Published by HarperCollins on July 14th 2015
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Classics, General
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Blind, that’s what I am. I never opened my eyes. I never thought to look into people’s hearts, I looked only in their faces. Stone blind . . . Mr. Stone. Mr. Stone set a watchman in church yesterday. He should have provided me with one. I need a watchman to lead me around and declare what he seeth every hour on the hour. I need a watchman to tell me this is what a man says but this is what he means, to draw a line down the middle and say here is this justice and there is that justice and make me understand the difference. I need a watchman to go forth and proclaim to them all that twenty-six years is too long to play a joke on anybody, no matter how funny it is.
I am really nostalgic about To Kill a Mockingbird, because it was one of the first books that made me think about issues larger than myself. I was really interested when I heard about this early draft being published, but I started to approach it with more unease as more information came out View Spoiler »(i.e. Jem’s death, Atticus’s racism, odd publishing circumstances).[spoiler]
Twenty-six year old Jean Louise Finch (Scout) returns to Maycomb, Alabama for her annual trip home. A few days into her trip, she discovers a racist pamphlet mixed in with her dad’s belongings and finds him and her devoted suitor Henry Clinton attending a meeting where a man is giving a vitriolic racist speech. She also sees many other men she respected there and quickly realizes that her home is not the idyllic town she remembers from childhood. Jean Louise is physically ill at the thought of her father having bigoted views and struggles to reconcile the idealized version of the father with the man he is today.
It is easy to see why the publisher suggested that Harper Lee rewrite the book to focus on Scout’s childhood. Some of my favorite sections of GSAW were the flashbacks that showcase Scout’s relationships with Atticus, Jem and Calpurnia. Dill even makes a brief flashback appearance! The flashbacks sometimes ran a little too long, but it is nice to read about the Scout’s childhood again.
She did not stand alone, but what stood behind her, the most potent moral force in her life, was the love of her father. She never questioned it, never thought about it, never even realized that before she made any decision of importance the reflex, “What would Atticus do?” passed through her unconscious; she never realized what made her dig in her feet and stand firm whenever she did was her father; that whatever was decent and of good report in her character was put there by her father; she did not know that she worshiped him.
I do not think that GSAW would have the same emotional impact, without the previous reading of TKAM. Since I also had an idealized view of Atticus, I was able to completely empathize with Jean Louise’s disillusionment. It is deeply upsetting to find out someone you looked up to is not who you thought they were. I thought that I would be able to keep the Atticus of TKAM and the Atticus of GSAW separate in my mind, but I easily merged the two. He was still a man who loved his children and believed in the law. He does not see himself in the same light as Mr. O’Hanlon, who is ranting and raving early on in the book. His racism comes from a place of (deeply flawed) logic and he hides behind states’ rights when confronted about his views on segregation. If his actions in the previous book came from a place of paternalism, which recent criticism suggests, the more extreme viewpoint of elderly Atticus is not that much of a leap. I have known good people that I would have never suspected of bigotry, until society went “too far” and crossed a line in their minds. For Atticus Finch that line is Brown vs. Board of Education and desegregation, which he sees as a Supreme Court overreach. A complicated man may be more realistic and the story it is really relatable, but it is still deeply unsettling. I was shocked how much this realization about a fictional character felt like a punch in the gut. It makes me a little sad that future readers will not be able to see him without this dark cloud. [spoiler]Advance reviews did prepare me for the change in Atticus, but I was absolutely not prepared for the heartbreaking scene when Scout visits Calpurnia. « Hide Spoiler I really felt for Jean Louise as she began to feel that her whole life was a lie. I also really related to the Coffee scene. I liked how when Jean Louise entered these social situations she just kind of heard the awful highlights. It was a really accurate way to display the whirlwind of shock she was going through.
“What was this blight that had come down over the people she loved? Did she see it in stark relief because she had been away from it? Had it percolated gradually through the years until now? Had it always been under her nose for her to see if she had only looked? No, not the last. What turned ordinary men into screaming dirt at the top of their voices, what made her kind of people harden and say “nigger” when the word had never crossed their lips before?”
“Why doesn’t their flesh creep? How can they devoutly believe everything they hear in church and then say the things they do and listen to the things they hear without throwing up? I thought I was a Christian but I’m not. I’m something else and I don’t know what. Everything I have ever taken for right and wrong these people have taught me—these same, these very people. So it’s me, it’s not them. Something has happened to me.”
I was happy that there was still a spark of “juvenile desperado, hell-raiser extraordinary” in Jean Louise. She gets the town talking pretty much the moment she enters it! She is more progressive than Atticus and she has good intentions, but she certainly is a person of her time and is racist herself (“But, Uncle Jack, I don’t especially want to run out and marry a Negro or something.” “They are simple people, most of them, but that doesn’t make them subhuman.”). The narrative is a little scattered and meanders between childhood flashbacks, Jean Louise’s verbal sparring matches with her aunt, flirtation between Jean Louise and Henry and Jean Louise’s psychological turmoil. It is written in third person, but there are some jarring transitions into first when we hear some of Jean Louise’s thoughts. The dialogue towards the end got really preachy and there was a lot of “mansplaining.” View Spoiler »At one point, an uncle LITERALLY slaps some “sense” into Jean Louise. « Hide Spoiler
(referring to Civil War) As it rolled by, Jean Louise made a frantic dive for her uncle’s trolley: “That’s been over for a—nearly a hundred years, sir.” Dr. Finch grinned. “Has it really? It depends how you look at it. If you were sitting on the sidewalk in Paris, you’d say certainly. But look again. The remnants of that little army had children—God, how they multiplied—the South went through the Reconstruction with only one permanent political change: there was no more slavery. The people became no less than what they were to begin with—in some cases they became horrifyingly more. They were never destroyed. They were ground into the dirt and up they popped. (This part and the passages about collective conscious made me think of The Buried Giant).
The book is about a young woman recognizing that her dad is a human and not a god and learning that she has her own conscience separate from her father’s. It is about how people are complicated and that a person is more than just their bad aspects. It is about empathy for everyone, even those we disagree with. It is about standing for up for what you believe and not running away when things get tough. As Dr. Finch said: “The time your friends need you is when they’re wrong, Jean Louise. They don’t need you when they’re right—”.
I am most interested in this book as insight into the creative process that led to TKAM. My 3-Star rating is based on the fact that this is a mostly untouched draft, not character viewpoints. I know it is impossible now, but I would have liked to see how it turned out if it had maintained its basic structure during the editing process instead of turning into TKAM. This book is really relevant today, especially in context of the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision and the Confederate flag controversy. The viewpoint Atticus expresses in this book sounds outdated at first glance, but I have heard Atticus’s argument very recently in relation to local school board drama. It may not be a must-read for fans of TKAM, but it is definitely interesting and memorable in its own right.
I did not want my world disturbed, but I wanted to crush the man who’s trying to preserve it for me. I wanted to stamp out all the people like him. I guess it’s like an airplane: they’re the drag and we’re the thrust, together we make the thing fly. Too much of us and we’re nose-heavy, too much of them and we’re tail-heavy—it’s a matter of balance. I can’t beat him, and I can’t join him—