On February 19th the world lost 2 literary giants : Umberto Eco and Harper Lee. I never read Eco’s most famous novel, The Name of the Rose, but I do have a copy. One day I want to read it, but today I want to pay tribute to to Harper Lee, who wrote one of my favorite books of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird.
To read the book in your teens like I did is a rite of passage about a young woman’s rite of passage in the South. My mom recommended the book to me when I was 13 or 14. I’m so glad that I did. It made a great impression on me and it still does to this very day.
For those of you not familiar with the novel, it’s the story of Scout Finch and her older brother Jem and the summer their father defended a black man who was accused of raping a white woman. In the South at that time, that was considered by white people to be a cardinal sin. The story is told through Scout’s point of view and the book’s strength is that it’s a tale told, in a way, through a child’s eyes and it details how she and her brother wind up learning hard truths about the adult world.
The hero of the book is Scout’s father, Atticus Finch. He is a man we all aspire to be: moral, noble, courageous, empathetic and wise. Atticus knew that winning an acquittal in Tom Robinson’s case was an uphill battle but as he said, “The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscious. ” He also taught us that we had to crawl inside another person’s skin to get to know them, which is certainly not an easy thing to do.
This is partly why I was against the publication of Go Set a Watchman last year. It was a lost manuscript that somehow Lee’s publisher found. It basically was the original draft of Mockingbird. I found it difficult to imagine that Harper Lee wanted the book to be published. Unlike her friend Truman Capote, she shied away from the limelight, not giving interviews for decades. I think she would have been horrified to find out she was trending on Twitter. I feel in my heart that she might have been manipulated to publish the book, but I think none of us will ever know what happened. And finally, it turned my stomach to think of Atticus in Watchman as a racist. It’s like finding out that Santa snorts coke or that the Easter Bunny is a serial killer.
Still, we will always have Mockingbird. This book about growing up in the South that still resonates with people today. A new generation of readers are finding this book and loving it. Thank you Harper Lee for giving us a great novel, a book that we all can learn how to treat our fellow man. The world is a colder place without you.