“Terrible”. “Disappointing”. “Nonsensical”. “Upsetting”.
These are the words used by the OC English department in order to try to describe Harper Lee’s newly released novel, Go Set a Watchman. This book, written before the beloved American classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, details the life of Jean Louise (or Scout, as readers know her) in the turbulent fifties. Her father, Atticus Finch, is the moral compass of the little town of Maycomb, Alabama, as seen in To Kill a Mockingbird. He stands up for people who have been mistreated and goes against the grain by defending an African American man in court. In Lee’s newly published first draft of her characters, Atticus is a thoughtful bigot and Scout must stand against her father’s ideas. The entirely new makeup of Atticus Finch upsets and saddens readers.
The English Department at OC has many ideas concerning the controversy of the publication of this sequel. Dr. Doerfler wants to keep her ideas of Atticus pure, so she has decided to not even read Go Set a Watchman. Mrs. Rinkacs, on the other hand, has both read and digested the material presented in the newly published book. “I pretend like the second book was never written. I believe that it tarnishes the reputation of Atticus Finch, a character whose goodness and purity is much too special to suddenly forget. I do not want us to lose sight of what was created because of what has come about.” “Shocking” was the word the Ms. McNulty used to describe the sequel. Both the controversy about Atticus and the poor quality of the language in the book (“It was obviously never meant to be published in its present form, it most likely had gone through some editors, but by no means was her final draft”- agrees Mrs. Rinkacs) led her to decide against reading it. The book disappoints Miss Jefferies, who mourns the loss of such an excellent symbol of tolerance and clear thinking, and Mrs. Spada, who is half way finished with the book, was upset with the destruction of Atticus’ character as well.
But when it comes to their views on the character and ideas of Atticus Finch, their ideas display their different opinions. Miss Jefferies understood where the book was coming from with its portrayal. She said, “But I’m not really surprised, because there are certain patriarchal or patronizing comments made in the first book, that show that shade of his character that could have had that bigoted and stubbornly opinionated side to it. But maybe that’s all he can do in his small thinking generation, and maybe Scout and Jem in the slightly more progressive generation could have the better, more ideas based on equality.” Mrs. Spada understood Lee’s point that parents are not always the heroes that they seem to be when children become adults but not to the scale of going from hero to villain. Mrs. Rinkacs believes that Atticus is still the pure and considerate person whom the world first met in the 60s.
When asked if the teachers would recommend this book, Mrs. Spada says, “Don’t judge a book from the reviews. You simply shouldn’t decide after reading one review that you will never read a book.” Mrs. Rinkacs would encourage people to give it a chance – just stop reading when you get to the end. The ending wraps everything up much too cleanly and very unrealistically. But everyone agreed that Harper Lee was manipulated into releasing this first copy to the masses. Mrs. Rinkacs stands by the Lee whose ideas swept the nation. “It is completely illogical that Harper Lee would want to ruin the most iconic character in American literature. She knew the masterpiece that she had created – why tarnish it?” But Mrs. Rinkacs still has her high opinion of Lee’s skills as an author. The versatility and perceptiveness to the world that Lee incorporates in her writing is deeply admired by Miss Jefferies. Mrs. Spada loves Lee’s work and believes that no matter what critics may say, Lee is still one of the greatest writers of our age.
Overall, every teacher stressed the simple beauty of To Kill a Mockingbird, and highly encourages every person to read it. But when it comes to Go Set a Watchman, Ms. McNulty says that there are many other titles that are more than mediocre, so the newest Harper Lee book ranks low on her “to-read” list. In the end, To Kill a Mockingbird will always remain an American classic. And nobody, not even the author herself, can change the beloved description of life in the American South.