Now here was a dilemma: to read or not to read the discovered book by Harper Lee. I was happier when I knew it was an earlier draft of what was to become ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. The idea of a sequel was not one I welcomed.
I read and heard a lot of the coverage when the book was published last year, most of it about Atticus and his views on race and how this showed a completely different person to the one I knew and loved from the famous book. I was also sad to learn that Jem had died an untimely death. Since I saw the story more through his eyes than Scout’s, this was, to me, an omission I felt all the way through.
However, I was more impressed than I thought I would be. I was waiting for the moments when Jean Louise, as Scout now commonly calls herself, comes face to face with Atticus’s views on race and was impressed by her reaction. I would say her response was the one I wanted from her and I followed her through the next stage of the book completely on her side. When other members of the family intervened to make the peace I was less impressed with her response and, ultimately, with the message of the book.
It is an argument that has continued through the ages: do you accommodate people whose views you find offensive or do you cut yourself off from them. Obviously, when the people you wish to disassociate from are your family members it becomes harder but the essential argument remains the same. By looking at the simmering tensions in the 50s South through the relationship of father and daughter, Harper Lee has attempted to show how one person might react.
Recent events in the UK (no- platforming, universities as safe spaces) have led me to reassess my own views on what to do when you meet distasteful views; free speech must be protected. Yet, I am also reminded of the people who spent years campaigning against apartheid by refusing to engage with the regime. In the end I decided Jean Louise should have packed her bags, I wanted her to and wished her well on her journey away from her hometown. The ending is not the one I wanted.
Fortunately, in this book we have the flashbacks to the childhood times and adventures that were identified by Harper Lee’s editor as the true source of wisdom in her writing. By making her rewrite this book we had the classic.