Monday, September 21, 2015

Prejudice, Faith, Fathers & Daughters and GO SET A WATCHMAN by Harper Lee

Newspaper clipping my father sent me
just after the book was released.
I had no plans to read GO SET A WATCHMAN -- partly because I can be really ornery when it comes to "what everyone else is doing," and partly because I am not enamored of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD as many folks are. (Somehow typing that makes me feel downright un-Alabamian, and maybe even un-American. Alas.)

But all that was before I got this middle of the night email from my father, which he so generously gave me permission to share here:

September 5, 2015

Dearest Irene--
I just finished Harper Lee's new/old book and I'm so excited and thrilled by it that even though it's the wee hours of the morning I had to tell you.

I loved To Kill A Mockingbird. I love Go Set A Watchman. I may be in a minority but Watchman is fantastic! And the two of them together provide a wonderful complete story.

It's true that Atticus takes a slight fall from lofty heights but he becomes more human in the process and, in my view, remains a hero though less than a God. He does right as he sees it and becomes a greater man and father in the process.

And I have to tell you that touched me in a very special way.  Atticus raised Scout to be a fully functional, rational, thinking person
Sent from my iPhone

~Sorry, I got so carried away, I hit the wrong button~

...Capable of making her own way in the world based on values she was taught. The part that was incomplete was the examination of those values in the context of a very harsh often unfair world not of absolutes but of grays, not of blacks and whites (to make a bad pun) but of shades of gray. She could only come complete when she had to begin to see this world through her own eyes and begin to deal with it in a more engaged and realistic way.

I think I'm raving about this book for several reasons: (1) It completes the story in what I feel a very satisfying way; (2) it is insightful about segregation, not to justify it but pointing to the underlying cultural situation that caused the south to pull away from the union and how the south's defeat and experience with reconstruction encouraged segregation...and it concluded--rightly in my mind--both that some changes must be made because they're not only right but seriously overdue and that complex situations ought to be approached in multiple ways to permit and abet positive results; a and most important to me on a personal level, (3) it reminds me of what I was in my own bumbling way trying to do in raising you and Lynn.  I felt it essential that you be independent  persons equipped to make your own way in the world. I wanted you to have the values and abilities not only to be good people but to make world a better place and to be strong enough to be able to choose your own path and to be secure and successful whatever path you chose. I'm so very proud of you--a man of any character at all was to see his child grow to be strong and wise and successful. I was given the great gift of freedom to find my own way while always being loved--I felt that this should be passed along to you and that was the greatest legacy I could you. I did it the best way I knew how and I am so very proud of you--you are such a blessing to me!

So that's my take on the book. I hope they'll make a play out of it and produce it in Monroeville! If they do, getting you there see it is in my Bucket List!!!

I love you!

So it is through that lens that I reserved at the library GO SET A WATCHMAN. (Some context on how "big" this book is here in Alabama: at the time of my online reserve, our library system had 109 copies, and I was 23 on the wait-list. It only took a few days for the email to arrive saying the book was ready for me to pick up.) 

And you know what? I liked Jean Louise. I liked her spunk, her impatience, her fearlessness about her convictions. It's hard to grow up, and that's really what she does in this book -- little Scout becomes full-fledged Jean Louise. There are some disappointments along the way -- necessary ones, as my father points out. And ultimately the book speaks to me about the father-daughter relationship I've known, which, can certainly be rocky, but is also steadfast. At least that has been my experience! I'm so grateful to have had a father who taught me to question things, even though there were time when he made me so mad by "picking" at me. I know now it was part of my training -- he wanted me to be able to argue, to defend my position, to think, to empathize with others, to GROW as a human, become myself, whomever that may be. What a gift! And Atticus gives that to Scout in this book.

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD it is not. There's hardly a plot, way too much conversation, not a lot happens at all. And the racism! Hard to read, acknowledge, accept. Yet there's some magic there, a bit of the south as I've known it (nearly all in the flashbacks to Scout's younger MOCKINGBIRD years), and some truths about life that I find powerful, as my father did.

My favorite quote is this one: 

"Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith,
 a clean one, have something in common: 
they both begin where reason ends."

Who but Harper Lee would put prejudice and faith in the same sentence?

My father and I actually came thisclose to meeting Harper Lee when we traveled together to Monroeville a few years back for Alabama Writers Symposium, where I was speaking about LEAVING GEE'S BEND, and Fannie Flagg was being honored with the Harper Lee Award, and lo and behold, Harper Lee attended the luncheon! While we were there we also saw the play "To Kill a Mockingbird," the first half of which is held outside on the courthouse lawn, and the second half of which attendees pile into the courtroom to hear the proceedings. It's wonderful, and that's what my father is speaking of in that last bit of his note.

The lesson for me here -- and isn't it appropriate that it should be my father (who reads a book a day) teaching it? -- is to be openminded about books, to give them a chance, allow them into my heart, however imperfect (or popular!) they may be. Reading is about emotion, and the best books (to me) are the ones that show me something about me and my life that I recognize, but hadn't been able to say myself. 

This book does that, and for that I am grateful. Thanks, Papa, for everything. I love you!


  1. What a lovely tribute to your father. Guess I need to finish reading that book.

  2. The sentiment of this post is beautiful all the way through!

  3. Love. Love. Love.
    That is all.

  4. You Dad is a good dude, and he helped raise a fine human. :-)

  5. Must share.
    My dad's long gone but I hope he'd feel the same way.
    Now off to add my name to the 357 others on the library's reserve list.

  6. Loving this post, Irene. Now I will read this book, a choice which I have previously allowed the media to determine for me. I am grateful for your father and that he let you share his ideas.

  7. Irene, this is wonderful and so is your father.


Your thoughts?