I remember vividly the time I first read “To Kill A Mockingbird”. I was a high-school freshman and was assigned to read it for English. I finished the book then turned around and read it again.
A recently discovered novel by Harper Lee, author of “To Kill A Mockingbird”, will be released in July. “Go Set A Watchman” was penned 60 years ago, before Lee’s iconic novel, and reads like a sequel to what has become one of my favorite stories.
According to an interview with Miss Lee published on www.bbc.com, “Watchman” was originally turned down by publishers, who suggested the author instead draw from Scout’s memories of growing up in the south to create a very different book, “To Kill A Mockingbird”.
For those who may not have read “To Kill A Mockingbird” (gasp), it is set during the Depression and depicts racial prejudice from a child’s point of view. In “Watchman”, Scout has returned to Maycomb, Alabama from New York to visit her father, the lawyer Atticus Finch. Once there, “she is forced to grapple with issues both personal and political as she tries to understand her father’s attitude toward society, and her own feelings about the place where she was born and spent her childhood.”
The publisher, Harper Collins, plans an initial printing of 2 million copies of “Go Set A Watchman”.
I believe strongly in the power of story to impact our worldview. “To Kill A Mockingbird” has done that for me, both when I read it as a 14-year-old (twice) and again as an adult. While I loved stepping back into this tumultuous time in the segregated South, I was more moved by the relationships in the story — between Scout and her brother, with their neighbor Dill, with their father and his with the black man accused of rape (Tom Robinson).
In his outstanding book “Tell Me a Story”, author Daniel Taylor says this:
“Stories encourage in the listener an attitude of belief. We are perfectly happy for an ox to be blue, for a straw to be spun into gold, for one warrior to defeat a dozen (smiling to boot), for the sun to stop or turn to blood, for wise gnomes in other galaxies to have Einstein’s eyes and great wisdom. But these are mere details of plot. More importantly, we are, when under the spell of some stories, willing to believe that good is more powerful than evil, that death is preferable to dishonor, that perseverance pays, that truth is more than a word and justice more than a definition of the powerful, that love exists — if only in the cracks. And if we believe all this, and much more, while the story is being told, we do not abandon that belief entirely when we return to our own personal stories.”
Taylor captures precisely why it’s important to share stories, and why fiction can be a valuable way to say what we can’t about our own prejudices, fears, expectations, experiences. Whether written as fact or fiction, well-told stories have the power to pull the reader into themselves to examine their own motives, emotions and mindset.
And in writing, the author does the same — even writers of fiction. No writer can deny that some small (or large) part of their own lives has seeped into the tales they share with the world. It’s been presumed that Harper Lee is Scout in “To Kill A Mockingbird”.
When asked years ago why she had never attempted to publish another book, the reclusive author told a friend:
“I did not need to write another book.
I said what I wanted to say in that book.”
Harper Lee’s “new” book actually completes the story she set out tell some 60 years ago. It turns out she had more to say, but she had already said it. And now we will know “the rest of the story.”
(Atticus’ quote image source: quotzee.blogspot.com)