Today is the release date of Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman. It’s a big deal. She was notoriously shy after the release of her only other book, she never published another one, and To Kill a Mockingbird was and is an incredible success.
When it was announced Watchman book would be published after 40 plus years of collecting dust in a drawer, Mockingbird was front and center again. Not to mention lots of controversy surrounding the shy author, now that she’s almost 90 and been though several health issues. Why didn’t this book surface when her sister and caretaker was still alive? Are her lawyer and/or publisher taking advantage of her? The state of Alabama ruled that she is of sound mind earlier this year. It’s made for countless news articles, opinion pieces, and thousands of comments that can get pretty aggressive on both sides of the issue.
While I read many of those articles, waiting for Watchman to be released (it’s on my wish list and I will read it sooner rather than later–mostly, I’m curious), I revisited the beloved classic back in April.
Wow. I didn’t appreciate how good Mockingbird is when I read it in high school. Maybe my fairly sheltered life at that point couldn’t relate as well to the material. Maybe I was giving into my rebel instincts and only taking in enough to pass the test because it was assigned reading. Maybe I was more interested in being a teenager than understanding something that was prevalent, but beyond my immediate world. It’s been 20 years since I’d read the book–maybe I simply forgot too many of the details.
But reading it as an adult who’s lived beyond safe, coddled suburbia (but not much) I think I had a better understanding how tense things in Maycomb became. How such an unfair accusation could change the entire outlook of a young, impressionable girl. How the book itself forced attention to the incredibly strong biases in our world and the true injustice caused by such biases (then and even now), and how reading it could make you look at yourself and your own biases–whether minor or major–in a new light.
A great story pulls from the conflict of the time and makes it timeless. It pulls you along the characters’ journeys of how this conflict permanently changes their outlook on life. Scout had to face the harsh reality that a rape trial would invade her little world, even though she was too young to really understand what the accusation meant. She had to watch her father change, her brother change, and see people she thought she knew as one thing become something completely different.
This book is still incredible, but it meant something very different to me as an adult than when I was a teenager. I’m much more likely to speak up now than I was then. More likely to take a stand than hide in the shadows and let someone else lead. More likely to see people as a set of complex issues instead of defined by a single good or bad characteristic.
All of those things are revelations in Mockingbird and in everyone’s life. That’s what makes the story so good. That’s what makes it stand the test of time, despite the culture and lifestyle of the setting being mostly gone or at least seen as no longer acceptable.
This is a book every adolescent should read (banned books be damned)… and then reread 20 years later. As a youth, I focused more on Scout and Boo. As an adult, I focused more on Scout’s perception of her surroundings, her father, and the world at large. Both have incredible meaning, but I really appreciate that I saw so much more the second time around.
I also feel bad for every author who’s having their book released today–right or wrong, they’re going to be overshadowed by Harper Lee.