The hype before Harper Lee’s new old book was released surprised most people in the literary world. When was there so much anticipation before the release of a book. Probably not since the releases of the in the Girl With the Dragoon Tattoo series. What brought all the talk? First, a best-selling, brilliant author who had not released a novel since the 1960’s releases her final piece of work. Everyone knows there will be nothing more written by Harper Lee. Just like with Steg Larrson, who had the nerve to die too young, we all knew that each book brought us closer to the last.
But, let’s talk writer to writer. If you were Harper Lee and in your right mind, would you want to release your Work in Progress that got rejected by the publisher? Would you want to release your first draft where your characters are forming in your mind but not fully there yet? Would you want your unfinished work to be out there for critical review? Speaking for myself, my answer to those questions would be a resounding no.
Then, you ask, why did she do it? My answer is she might not have been in her right mind. Or, maybe she wanted everyone to see what she really wanted to write before the publisher asked her to make changes. In any event, she didn’t destroy this draft. Had she really not wanted it published, wouldn’t she have destroyed it?
Next, we must ask can we really evaluate a book written such a long time ago when the culture was so different? At the time Harper Lee wrote Go Set Watchman and then To Kill a Mockingbird, life was very different than today. (And we must remember Harper Lee is a descendent of Robert E. Lee. Remember him?) Can we really judge Atticus Finch for being a bigot? He reflected what people at the time thought, particularly people in Alabama. If she had created him in any other way, she would have been dishonest to the culture in which she was writing. Yes, this ugly view of Atticus Finch destroys our image of the hero recusing the black man from the mob of angry whites. But, what Finch was doing was standing up for justice, not for racial inequality. That’s what Harper Lee wrote and now we see it clearly while reading this new view of Finch.
One reviewer wrote: “The message in this book–however painfully it hits–is important: heroes can fall and they should. Not only that, but it forces us to look at our own values and behaviors.”
I believe the best thing about the release of this book is that it forces us to look at our own values and behaviors. It forces us to see the ugliness under the preverbal rock. The good news is much has changed. The bad news is much still needs to change.
What are your views about Harper Lee’s new old book? Share your opinion.