Harper Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, is only about 100 miles and a two-hour drive from my home in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. Maycomb — as it’s known in the books — is really close!
I’ve read the reviews, and I’ve listened to the critics on NPR. I know that Atticus Finch is portrayed as a racist, and I know that many other readers have been disappointed. Still, I’m looking forward to reading this book.
In some ways, I feel a bit like Scout. I was a child when I first read To Kill a Mockingbird just as Scout was a child during Mockingbird’s action. Having grown up in a small town in the southern United States, I could relate to many of the things that Scout, Jem, and Dill encountered. I don’t remember a Boo Radley in my hometown, although there were plenty of characters around whom I felt at least a little uneasy.
And, like Scout, I knew racism. I heard it at school, and I knew the attitudes of many people around town. I saw the different sections in which people with different skin color lived. There was an invisible but very clear color line dividing our town.
I am thankful that my parents taught me to respect all people regardless of their racial or ethnic background. But I still knew and observed racism.
I read To Kill a Mockingbird again as an adult. I also listened to the audio book, and although I knew the story — although I knew that Tom Robinson would be falsely found guilty — still I cried when the verdict was announced. How could people treat someone else with such dismissive disdain and searing hatred, I wondered.
To prepare for Watchman’s release this week, my family watched Mockingbird on Monday night. Gregory Peck was just as calm and determined as always as Atticus Finch . I still felt the pit in my stomach during Tom’s trial.
And, now I have Watchman. Like Scout in Watchman, I’m older now (though I’m considerably older than Jean Louise in Watchman). I’m sure my perspectives have changed since childhood as Scout’s surely did.
While other readers have expressed frustration and disappointment with Jean Louise’s portrayal of Atticus, I’m looking forward to it. Much of the disappointment seems driven by people’s desire for a completely good, upright hero without flaws or blemishes.
I don’t think life happens that way, and I think it is heroic to do the right thing even if one has mixed motives and undesirable qualities. At this point, I think Atticus still is a hero.
I wonder what I’ll think after reading Go Set a Watchman.
Now, it’s time to read!