By Robert Rando
Published in the Bucks County Herald (Opinion and Editorial Page)
September 24, 2015
Banned Book Week is just around the corner – Sept. 27 to Oct 3 – and the added awareness brings to mind an array of titles that have been deemed inappropriate for a variety of reasons, some more obvious than others. The banning of books is usually seen through the eyes of elected school boards and defined by the local and stoic regional governments where political correctness is the rage. Eventually though, victory is written by the winners. The problem for those of us living in the moment is the drifting winds of the politically correct fashion police.
When To Kill a Mockingbird emerged from the mind of Harper Lee in 1960 it moved in two streams. In one it garnered rave reviews from the likes of The New Yorker and Time magazines, as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961. In the other stream it entered the classroom (1963) and immediately became the focus of controversy.
Racial slurs, profanity, and blunt dialogue about rape led people to challenge its appropriateness in libraries and classrooms so often that, today, the American Library Association reports that To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most challenged classics of all time.
What is poison to some is the elixir of change to others. To Kill a Mockingbird is literature using fiction to bring the community discussion around to community needs. It painted real-life pictures of a complex time in American history. Why is this so important as written, racial slurs and all? Look and see. We are almost 100 years post Atticus defending the alleged rapist and we are still mired in financial uncertainty for large segments of our population; rapes still occur on a daily basis (anyone want to go to college); and racial strife continues to permeate many if not all aspects of social interaction.
Harper Lee showed us how the moral compasses of those living in Maycomb/Monroeville were being challenged both from within the focal community and from the higher authorities which wished to rule from afar. And, while this small enclave in Alabama was front and center, it was by no means irregular. Our Nation as a whole suffered these same multilayered and multileveled problems.
Now 55 years later we have another installment from Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman. Unfortunately, the investigation of this book’s storyline became, for a while, sidelined by the side story; did she really want this book printed. According to some, the heavily hyped appearance of this book reflected an ambitious publishing venture.
What eventually became Go Set a Watchman everyone knows was Harper Lee’s first attempt and, as one can attest from the masterwork which followed, not her best but, it is now out in public domain and needs to be read.
It is interesting to note that Go Set a Watchman was her first work and as so, her first description of Maycomb yet when Jean Louise gets off the train and drives to Atticus’s house with Henry we, like Scout, are back home.
There are some problems with the book itself, drafts usually do have problems. Certain sections might be hard to read through if one was not familiar with her second work. For example, if you don’t know Atticus as a hero how could you understand his morality shaping itself to both the law and his upbringing which dictates a slower pace of change? Atticus is a credible hero but, you might have to read both books to know that. As the story threads begin to coalesce in Go Set a Watchman, the pace picks up and the complex personal and societal struggles are placed on the table for all to discuss and argue about.
It is also likely those with politically correct mindsets will complain but, while political correctness is good for polite conversation, it does not help one really understand the mindset at large throughout history. Good literature is needed for this.
Those who are interested in what is certain to be a spirited conversation about both books should mark their calendars for a book discussion that will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 21st at the Early Bird Espresso & Mercantile in Frenchtown.
The event is being organized by The Book Garden and those interested in attending should email Robert@bookgarden.biz. A $5 refreshment fee is being requested of all attendees.