I find it hard to get sucked up into all the handwringing about Harper Lee’s new book, “Go Tell a Watchman,” like that in the article about the book in the Wall Street Journal. First, it’s not clear that Harper Lee would have published the book if she were healthy and of sound mind. It seems likely that some of those close to her are using this old draft novel to make some money. That may not be bad if Harper Lee needs some money for her care in her present condition. But it that is the case, there is no basis for comparing this book to her earlier book, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which she published in her prime.
Secondly, I don’t think that the fact that Atticus may have had some segregationist leanings makes him a bad man. He was a child of his times. In “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Atticus defends a black man being prosecuted by the white establishment not because he is black, but because he is innocent. I’m not sure the book says that he wanted to marry a black woman or take on a black law partner. I’m not sure he was the white Martin Luther King that the WSJ article makes him out to be.
I haven’t read the book, so if it says that Atticus participated in a lynching or joined the Ku Klux Klan, then maybe I have to revise my opinion. But if he is a decent man who wants equal justice for all before the law, even though there is still some social discrimination in the South, then I don’t think that means he is so different from the Atticus in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” If those WSJ writers believe that America today is a perfect racial paradise where Atticus appears as a racist bigot, then they haven’t been reading their own newspaper this summer.