Mockingbird

Feb 9, 2015 by

Mockingbird

The news out of the publishing world last week was not the sweet chirp of a mockingbird, but more like an earthquake rumbling across the nation. A sequel to Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird will be released on July 14, 2015. Social media exploded as the news hit the web. TV news channels carried the story. The fact that a sequel to Mockingbird will be forthcoming was all anyone could talk about.

 

 

Have you read this American classic? I first read Mockingbird as a homework assignment in middle school, and I’ve reread the book numerous times since. It’s a simple narrative, told by Scout, a six year old girl who tells the story of herself, her brother Jem, their friend Dill, and the idea they have of making the town’s mysterious recluse, Boo Radley, come out. Mockingbird is set during the Great Depression in the sleepy little southern town of Macomb, Alabama. The story revAtticusolves around the adventures of the three children while also telling the tale of a trial which consumes the town. Tom Robinson, a black man, has been charged with raping a white woman, and is put on trial. Scout’s father, Atticus Finch (probably the best known lawyer in the world, fictional or not), agrees to defend Robinson. The novel, which touches on the themes of racial prejudice, ignorance, poverty, social inequality and injustice, was published in 1960, and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. Mockingbird was made into a film in 1962, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. The film received three Academy Awards, including Peck for Best Actor.

 

Author Harper Lee modeled the character of Atticus after her own father, a southern trial lawyer in the small town of Monroeville, Alabama. My Kathleen Irene Paterka behind the Judge's bench in Monroeville ALhusband and I visited Monroeville last fall. The original courthouse has been preserved, and now houses a museum. If you haven’t visited, it’s definitely worth the trip. The courtroom where Lee’s father defended clients at trial is open to the public. In 1961, while the film was in pre-production, the producers and set designer travelled to Monroeville to study the courtroom. Though they’d hoped to be able to film on site, they were unable to do so, since the courthouse and courtroom were still in active use by attorneys and for trial. Their replica on a Hollywood soundstage was faithful in its reproduction. Being at the Old Monroe County Courthouse and walking into the courtroom feels like walking into the movie. But there is no courtroom bailiff to stop you from approaching the bench. You can sit in the jury box, or at the table for the defense. You can also step up to the judge’s bench and rap the gavel, as you see me doing in the picture at right. At any moment, it seemed as if the courtroom door would open, and a tall, handsome Atticus Finch (cue Gregory Peck) would stride into the room.

 

Now we hear that Atticus has been resurrected, and an adult Scout has returned to Macomb to visit her father. Lee’s new novel, Go Set a Watchman, features an aging Atticus and his grown daughter Scout. Set in Macomb, 20 years later, the book is 304 pages long. The manuscript was written before Mockingbird, but abandoned after Lee’s editor asked her to write a new book from the young child Scout’s point of view. Lee did as she was told, and set to work writing what ultimately became To Kill a Mockingbird.

 

This new release, Go Set a Watchman, was recently discovered in a safety deposit box, attached to one of the original drafts of Mockingbird. Upon hearing the news, Lee was as shocked as the rest of the world. She’d always assumed that the earlier manuscript had been lost or destroyed. She was hesitant when approached about publishing this new novel. But after a few trusted people read it and offered reassurance that it was indeed worth releasing, Lee gave the project her final approval.

 

It remains to be seen if Go Set a Watchman will live up to expectations. Debate has already begun over whether or not the novel should be published. People have their opinions. It would be difficult to follow up to a classic. To Kill a Mockingbird is a brilliant piece of writing. But as Lee herself recently stated about her upcoming novel: “This isn’t the sequel. This is the parent to ‘Mockingbird’.”

 

We are the richer for it.

 

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