There is much excitement in the literary world regarding Harper Lee's new book, Go Set a Watchman, which has been lost for over a half century. While we wait for its publication this coming July, there is much speculation regarding issues about why it had not been published before and whether Lee is competent to approve its publication now. I will allow those who think they know the correct answer to write about their insights surrounding this missing novel.
Go Set a Watchman had been written before To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus Finch and his daughter, Scout, are two decades older than they were in To Kill a Mockingbird. The time frame of Go Set a Watchman was set during racial unrest in Alabama in the 50s. Interestingly, Tonja Carter, Harper Lee's attorney who discovered the missing novel, asked Lee whether the lost novel was complete. Lee was said to have responded, "Complete? I guess so. It was the parent of Mockingbird."
Nevertheless, I want to address To Kill a Mockingbird, a novel about which we know a great deal. Atticus Finch said, "I'd rather you shot at tin cans in the backyard, but I know you'll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird." That is the basis for the name of Lee's novel. "Mockingbirds don't do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corn cribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."
To Kill a Mockingbird contains several human mockingbirds. Atticus Finch is one. He is defending Tom Robinson, a black man, who is accused of raping a white woman. Robinson is also a mockingbird. Robinson did no wrong, but racism is literally killing him. Lee addresses blatant racism in the Deep South before many other whites took note or even cared.
This is the courtroom in Monroeville, which Lee used in To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus Finch defended Tom Robinson in a courtroom that looked very similar to this one.
This is the video of the glass-throwing scene. The trial was not about an alleged rape of a white woman, but it is about white racism.
In many ways, I feel that Harper Lee did for the early 1960s what Harriet Beecher Stowe did a century before with Uncle Tom's Cabin. Both novels woke up white America to blatant white racism. During Stowe's time, it was slavery, and during Lee's time, it was segregation. Interestingly, both Stowe and Lee were white women.
In To Kill a Mockingbird, Finch was a lawyer ahead of his time and in the wrong geographical place at the time. Nonetheless, he observed, as a white male, the mistreatment of blacks in the South. He tells his daughter about racism, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it."
To Kill a Mockingbird described racism during the civil rights movement in America. Interestingly, the second civil rights movement started in 2014. The first civil rights movement started in 1955 with Rosa Parks. Nonetheless, whites did not get involved with the civil rights movement until around 1960. Interestingly, Lee's novel appeared in 1960.
However, the second phase of the civil rights movement started in my opinion in 2014 in places like Ferguson, Staten Island, and Cleveland. Additionally, a transformative change has taken place already. This time, look at the faces of the protesters from across the country. Here are two examples in Times Square, New York.
We are in the second phase of the civil rights movement. While white America created racism with slavery and segregation starting during the colonialization of America in the early 17th century, many white Americans have finally realized our racial injustice, which dates back nearly 300-years. Even though we are late in waking up, at least, we are awake now. Many of us are like Scout who said regarding racism, "I think there's just one kind of folks. Folks."
This video clip is Atticus Finch's summation in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Steve Kornacki reporting on Harper Lee's missing book.