I am beside myself with mixed feelings of apprehension and excitement at the news of the publication of Harper Lee’s new novel, Go Set a Watchman, coming out this July. I am stunned at the news to say the least. I don’t expect her to be doing any interviews since she is in an assisted living facility now. She is in her late eighties, deaf, and blind. Her sister Alice just passed away a few months ago, and she has a different lawyer handling all of her affairs. Yet, regarding the novel itself, my head is full of questions about how she handled the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird as it has been said that the new novel is a “sequel” to her first one. From what I can gather from articles I have read, though, Go Set a Watchman was her first novel that her publisher had her revise until it became To Kill a Mockingbird. Apparently her editor wanted her to focus mostly on Scout’s childhood. So it will be very interesting to see how Scout turns out as an adult. I hope she is still just as feisty as she was as a little girl!
Here are a couple of links to articles I have found about the new book. There are many, many more. All you have to do is google her name!
I feel excited about the new novel, because the timing couldn’t be more perfect for me personally. I am so into everything about the novel and the person of Harper Lee right now, but you already knew that! I am curious to see who the characters have become twenty years later. Scout would be about 28 years old. What has she done with her life? Did she become a lawyer like Atticus but unlike Harper Lee in real life? Wouldn’t it be interesting if Scout became a writer or a teacher?
What has Jem become – a lawyer, an artist, or an engineer? These are the suggestions of what he could become according to Atticus when Jem built his first snowman in To Kill a Mockingbird. The possibilities of where Harper Lee has taken the characters are endless, of course. Since Atticus is still in the story, he would be elderly now. What is his health like? Does Scout leave Maycomb earlier in her life then go back to visit him? Does this cause the adult Scout to reminisce about what else happened in her and Jem’s childhoods after the incident with Bob Ewell?
On the other hand, the reason I feel apprehensive about it is because I have always thought of To Kill a Mockingbird as such a unique book simply because of the fact that it was the only book Harper Lee ever published. The prospect that this is going to change somehow sets me off kilter a little bit. If this is one of your most beloved novels, how do you feel about it?
You see, I have never thought there needed to be a sequel for To Kill a Mockingbird contrary to popular opinion. It seems that people have felt disappointed that there never was one, though. I admit after I read it for myself for the first time last year, I also wondered why such a talented writer never published another book. Like Harper Lee, though, I felt like her novel was a complete story and didn’t need anything else. It was her business as to why she didn’t publish another one. However, when I have entertained the idea (just for fun) of what I would hope to see happen if there ever were a sequel, these were my thoughts:
1. I would want to see Scout and Jem’s childhood continue with their friend Dill in flashbacks.
2. I would want to see Jem’s reaction the first time he meets Arthur “Boo” Radley, his “savior” from getting killed by Bob Ewell.
3. I would want to see what happens to Bob’s daughter, Mayella, who lied on the witness stand about being raped by Tom Robinson and see how she is going to get along without her daddy.
Yet, I am content for all of that to be left up to my imagination. I absolutely love the ending of the book. I have never yearned for more. Who’s to say that any of my questions will be answered in the new novel anyway? It sounds like it will be a whole new story from one of the greatest storytellers I’ve ever read.
I will say, though, that when I heard about the second novel, the questions in my head were What happens to Boo? Do the kids become friends with him? Does he come outside during the day now? I sure hope the character of Arthur Radley is developed more than he was in To Kill a Mockingbird. However, I love the way she used his character to create so much mystery. That was exciting! Besides Scout, Boo is my very favorite character. I thought it was so fitting that Scout was the one who got to see him and talk with him at the end of the book. In her sensitivity to those around her, with her keen observational skills, she notices his curiosity about Jem after he is brought home and the doctor has seen him. So Scout takes Arthur inside to see Jem while he is asleep and tells him he can pet him since he’s asleep. Then when Arthur is ready to go, he asks Scout to take him home. I love his gesture of friendship that reciprocates hers. I might feel a little bit disappointed if it doesn’t happen, but what I want is for Arthur to be able to become better friends with Scout, Jem, Atticus, and Dill. I want him to come out and play, so to speak.
Lastly, I only hope Harper Lee hasn’t been taken advantage of in all of this. To make a long post even longer if you care to read another article, here ya go.
Until next time when I will move onto another character to talk about, y’all come back now, ya hear?
Have a wonderful day, and give someone you love a big hug! 🙂
Scene from the movie, To Kill a Mockingbird with Mary Badham as Scout and Gregory Peck as Atticus
The first character I want to focus on in To Kill a Mockingbird is Jean Louise Finch or Scout, as she is nicknamed. She is by far my very favorite character in the book perhaps for the main reason that she is such a beloved tomboy. I only hope you love her as much as I do. I may take more than one post to focus on her. She is complex in a way, because she does not think like the average six year old.
Scout is a keen observer. She notices people’s actions and personalities. She observes her surroundings, thinks about what she sees and hears, forms her own opinions, and speaks her thoughts and feelings as she sees fit. Sometimes this gets her in trouble even though I think she is genuine when she tries to help people such as her teacher, Miss Caroline Fisher, and her classmate Walter Cunningham.
In the second chapter of To Kill a Mockingbird Scout is beginning first grade. We are told she is turning six. Jem is four years older than she is and going in fifth grade. What I want to focus on today is what I think is one of the funniest parts in the novel. In fact, the other day I was reading chapters two and three at the bookstore and beginning to write this post when I almost had to refrain from laughing out loud several times! Harper Lee is a master at showing us Scout’s curious nature and her struggle to understand the new people she encounters.
The adult, Jean Louise, begins telling us the story of her first day of school by reminiscing about how she felt one winter day about the prospect of going to school in the fall. Sitting up in a treehouse, she spies on Jem (through a telescope he gave her) as he plays in the schoolyard below. She is desiring to join the playing children. Since he is her only sibling, I imagine she feels lonely without him during the day when he is gone, so she imagines school being fun and feels anxious to get started.
What transpires on her first day, however, is not what she had imagined on that winter day in the treehouse. First, when Jem walks her to school and shows her around, she concludes that Atticus must have bribed him to take care of her, because Jem instructs her not to bother him during the school day. Scout tells us, “I was to stick with the first grade and he would stick with the fifth. In short, I was to leave him alone.” (1)
The next thing that puzzles Scout is Miss Caroline, her teacher. She reads a strange story to the class which tells about cats who talk and wear clothes. Scout thinks this teacher does not understand the minds of children in Maycomb. She certainly doesn’t read this kind of stuff at home with Atticus. She sits on his lap at night and reads the local newspaper with him. In class she sits and thinks about how she can’t remember a time when she wasn’t reading. Jem told her she was born reading. What I find humorous here, however, is what is going through Scout’s mind while Miss Caroline reads the story.
Scout believes Miss Caroline is “unaware that the ragged, denim-shirted and floursack-skirted first grade, most of whom had chopped cotton and fed hogs from the time they were able to walk, were immune to imaginative literature.” (2)
She is so bored she begins to write a letter to her friend, Dill, but when caught by Miss Caroline, she gets scolded for writing! She isn’t supposed to know how to write yet; she is supposed to be learning how to print in first grade. Writing isn’t learned until third grade according to Miss Caroline.
By the end of the day Scout is feeling like her teacher should have been nicer to her. She doesn’t understand why Miss Caroline couldn’t reason with her the way Atticus does. In her mind all she was trying to do was help her teacher and a fellow student, Walter, who has lied about forgetting his lunch. Scout tries to tell Miss Caroline that he is a Cunningham and can’t borrow a quarter from her to buy a lunch, because his family doesn’t take things they can’t pay back. Instead of the teacher being grateful for Scout’s enlightening her to Maycomb’s ways, where she herself does not live, she smacks Scout’s hand with a ruler and is told to stand in the corner for all of her disruptions.
In the midst of her punishment Scout is rescued by the bell. As she leaves her corner of the room, she stands at the classroom door for a moment noticing how despondent her teacher has become. Scout watches her sink down in her chair and thinks to herself “Had her conduct been more friendly toward me, I would have felt sorry for her. She was a pretty little thing.” (3) So on this funny note chapter two ends.
Chapter three opens with Scout attacking Walter Cunningham in the schoolyard, because she thinks he caused her to “…start off on the wrong foot” (4) with the teacher. Jem tells her to leave him alone and invites him to dinner at their house. This mortifies Scout, and she gets more scolding from Calpurnia at home for being rude to him about pouring syrup all over his plate of food while he’s there.
By the end of her long day of frustrations and scolding, Scout is feeling apprehensive about reading with Atticus like she usually does. He notices her mood and proceeds to find out about how badly her first day at school went when she tells him she doesn’t want to go back. She learns that she has to go back, because Atticus can’t teach her full-time; he has to work. This is when he tells her something that becomes a significant theme in the novel.
“First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view-”
“-until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” (5)
So begins Scout’s journey towards learning how to see things through the eyes of others and put herself in their shoes before she makes snap judgments about them. So begins her journey in growing up.
Until next Monday, have a wonderful week, and give someone you love a big hug.
Y’all come back now, ya hear?
- To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, First Perennial Classic edition, Harper Collins Publishers, 2002, pg. 18
- ibid, pg. 18
- ibid, pg. 24
- ibid, pg. 25
- ibid, pg. 33
Photo Credit: Associated Press, New York Times
NELLE HARPER LEE: A BRIEF BIOGRAPHICAL PROFILE
Nelle Harper Lee was born on April 28, 1926, to Amasa Coleman Lee and Francis Cunningham Finch Lee, in Monroeville, Alabama. Her parents married in 1910 and settled in Monroeville in 1924. Nelle had three older siblings: Louise, Edwin, and Alice. Her sister Louise married and had a family. Her brother Edwin died at the age of 30 from a brain hemorrhage. Alice, the eldest, became a lawyer like her father and worked with him at his firm all her life. Nelle was in law school until she decided that being a lawyer was not for her. She wanted to write books.
In 1949, much to her parents’ dismay, she decided to move to New York City. She was 23 years old. The first job she found there was in a bookstore. “A bookstore was barely within the orbit of the literary world, but at least she would meet writers there. Or so she thought.” (1) Eventually Nelle discovered that her job didn’t pay enough. It barely covered her rent and food. In 1950 she went to work for Eastern Airlines. Her job required that she join the union which improved her salary substantially.
While she worked for the airlines, she spent her evenings writing and occasionally socializing with her good friend, Truman Capote, whom she had known since childhood. He had been left in Alabama when he was a small child by his mother for some time to be raised by his aunts. He lived next door to Nelle for several years. Eventually, he was picked up by his mother and moved to New York. When they were young, Nelle and Truman became fast friends, much like the characters Dill and Scout did in To Kill a Mockingbird. However, contrary to popular belief that she based her character, Dill, on Truman Capote, Nelle says this about the characters in her book in an interview she did in 1963 for a Chicago Press reporter:
REPORTER: “Were the characters in the book based on real people?”
MISS LEE: “No, but the people at home think so. The beauty of it, though, is that no two people come up with the same identification. They never think of themselves as being portrayed in the book. They try to identify others whom they know as characters.”
You can read the full interview here: http://web.archive.org/web/20070701015703/http://www.chebucto.ns.ca/culture/HarperLee/ellison.html
Nelle was a tomboy as a child. She was known as “a fearsome stomach-puncher, foot-stomper and hair-puller…” (2) Similarly her character Scout says in chapter three, “Catching Walter Cunningham in the shcoolyard gave me some pleasure, but when I was rubbing his nose in the dirt, Jem came by and told me to stop.” (3) Charles J. Shields says about Nelle Harper Lee in his biography, Mockingbird, “Once, three boys tried to challenge her, charging her individually, like kinghts galloping toward her. Each ended up facedown, spitting gravel, and crying, ‘Uncle!’ within moments.” (4)
Nelle was never a “girly” girl. She didn’t like to dress up when she was young. In her younger years she wore mostly pants and casual shirts and sometimes skirt outfits. Her hair is usually in a short wash-and-go style, and she’s not known for wearing make-up.
In college, she enjoyed athletics and was often seen hanging out with groups of boys. Many people there thought she came across more masculine than feminine. Cussing and smoking were two of her trademarks. I don’t know if they still are. She was not part of any specific group of girls. More often than not, she was seen as a loner, spending more time in her dorm room and the library than out socializing or dating. However, this was how she preferred to spend a great deal of her time – alone – reading, studying, and writing.
Yet, in her hometown in Alabama, contrary to her reputation, she has not been known as a “recluse.” Her closest friends have helped protect her from being bombarded by fans of her book through the years, because she enjoys her privacy. However, she has always been friendly and sensitive to others’ needs. She never seemed to be bothered about trying to “fit in”; she did her own thing, which obviously has made her happy.
These things I have mentioned about Nelle Harper Lee – her tomboyish ways, her sensitivity, and her love for reading and writing – are things that have always been pointed out about me from others throughout my own life. Growing up in the South in the 1960s as I did, I had the impression that these qualities were sometimes looked down on by other girls and some women I knew who saw themselves as more “proper.” As a child I thought that women were supposed to be more concerned about learning to cook and sew (both of which I hated) than writing stories or having your nose in a book like I did. I have always thought of myself as a tomboy.
All of my life I have never been one who liked wearing dresses. I hated it when I was a kid and my mother put rollers in my hair, to give me curls that never felt natural, for special occasions like my piano recitals or choir performances at school. I loved playing outside all the time, and I liked playing ball and riding bikes with boys much more than playing dolls or dress-up with girls. I enjoyed being a tomboy, because it was how I felt most comfortable. I liked getting dirty! I haven’t changed! Even now when I have to dress decent to make all my trips to town, as soon as I get home, I take off my shoes, get into my sweats, and breathe in the comfort of home.
Most likely I will never meet Nelle Harper Lee, but I feel like she and Scout have become “kindred spirits” to me. I have enjoyed reading her one great novel and learning about her very much! I have also enjoyed reading the biography Mockingbird, A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields as well. I have found Harper Lee to be a wise and wonderful treasure of a woman.
Until next time, y’all come back now, ya hear? Can’t you hear that wonderful southern accent?
Have a wonderful day, and give someone you love a big hug! 🙂
1. Shields, Charles J., Mockingbird, A Potrait of Harper Lee. New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC., 2006, pg. 19.
2. ibid, pg. 32.
3. Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird, First Perennial Classic edition. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2002, pg. 25.
4. Shields, Charles J., Mockingbird, A Potrait of Harper Lee. New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC., 2006, pg. 32.
Lately I have become fascinated with the person of Harper Lee, the author of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I have read her book three times in the last two years. This is not because the book is famous. This is not because the author became famous in 1960, the year I was born, when her one and only book was published. I didn’t read it just because the book club at the library read it the year of its 50th Anniversary in 2010. (I am not in that book club.)
I just remember seeing the book called “Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee” by Charles J. Shields on the shelf in the biography section at the library a couple of years ago. I picked it up and thumbed through it. I always read the flaps of hardback books before I even look through them, especially if I don’t know what they are about. Mockingbird? I honestly had no idea. The book flap’s first couple of sentences read this way:
“A lively portrait of the elusive woman who created
the American classic, To Kill a Mockingbird.
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD IS THE MOST WIDELY
read American novel ever.”
My first thought…really? I had never read this “most widely read American novel.” Where had I been all my life? What is more amazing is I don’t even remember ever hearing about this book or this author in all the years I was growing up in Decatur, Georgia. It was never required reading in any of my English classes, not even in college. My mother who was an avid reader of fiction never mentioned it to me. I have no idea if she ever read it herself. Then I thought, If that book is so great, why haven’t I ever read it? Then just as quickly…If I read this book now and love it, I am going to feel cheated. Oh well. Someday….maybe during the summer. I proceeded to put down the biography about Harper Lee and didn’t give the novel of “To Kill a Mockingbird” another thought until about two years ago.
It was about then that I was reading more fiction that dealt with issues about various matters: lifelong love, teen suicide, kidnapping, school bombings, raciscm, and death. There also aren’t very many books I have purposed to re-read just because I get lost in the story, love the characters, and envy the writing. In fact there are only two (okay, well, now three.)
The first book I have read at least five times is Nicholas Sparks’ novel The Notebook. I also own the movie. I have read and watched both multiple times. The theme of the intense love story and the way the couple stays together until they die is so incredible to me. Who doesn’t dream of that kind of love? I always have.
The second book I have read at least three times so far is The Help. I had never heard of it until I saw the movie in the theater. I loved the movie so much, I immediately bought the book. Of course the book was ten times better in my opinion, because of the many layers of the main characters, but the movie was done superbly! I own it as well as the book. What I love about it is not just the issue of racism, but the way the author makes her characters deal with it.
The book To Kill a Mockingbird is not just about racism, however. It is about family, right vs. wrong, honor, dignity, bigotry, hatred, and love. It is about how a little girl views the world around her, a little girl who is an inquisitive, feisty tomboy. Fortunately, she has a wonderful father who is patient enough to explain things to her on a level she can understand. Many parents don’t take time to just sit and answer a small child’s questions like Atticus Finch does with Scout. I always wished my own father had been like that; perhaps that is why I love Scout so much. She found her sense of security in her father. I found my sense of insecurity in mine.
I love how Harper Lee wrote the novel. She used two voices. She opens the book in the voice of Jean Louise Finch, the adult. She is looking back on her childhood as she narrates:
“When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.” (1)
However, when she begins to describe the day she and her brother meet Dill, the little girl Scout’s voice describes the event:
“Early one morning as we were beginning our day’s play in the back yard, Jem and I heard something next door in Miss Rachel Haverford’s collard patch. We went to the wire fence to see if there was a puppy–Miss Rachel’s rat terrier was expecting–instead we found someone sitting looking at us. Sitting down, he wasn’t much higher than the collards. We stared at him until he spoke:
‘Hey yourself,’ said Jem pleasantly.” (2)
So begins Jem and Scout’s new friendship with the next door neighbor, Dill, who only comes to visit his aunt in the summers. Though Harper Lee went back and forth between the main character’s adult and child voices, it was never confusing for me to follow. Her style has an easy flow. The manner in which her characters speak are in her own Southern voice since she is from Monroeville, Alabama. It is true to form. I know this
first-hand. I remember the summers when I was a child in the South. Every day seemed to last forever, because there was a great deal of play that needed to happen, and the adults seemed just fine with us kids out from underfoot as much as possible. We stayed outside, because there was no air conditioning in the houses, so it didn’t matter where we were: it was HOT. We went wading in the creek, swimming at the local pool, played ball and tag, and read books. Summer was a slow, easy time. Rainy days didn’t cool things off much, but they made mud puddles for us to jump in. Harper Lee conveys this image vividly when she says,
“Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired
old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather
the streets turned to a red slop; grass grew
on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square.” (3)
This is probably one of the most quoted sections of the novel, but it speaks to me, because I see my street in Georgia in my mind when I read it.
I believe To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the greatest works of fiction that has been written. Harper Lee showed her gift of writing with vivid word images, description, and character-building in this book. It doesn’t matter to me that she didn’t write another novel. She felt her work was done when she finished it. In my opinion, it definitely did not need a sequel.
On Mockingbird Mondays I will be attempting to write interesting character sketches (meaning how the characters effected me personally), provide some biographical information about Harper Lee, and touch on some of the issues raised in the novel. I am looking forward to this project, and I hope you will be, too.
Welcome to Mockingbird Mondays!! Y’all come back now, ya hear?
Have a wonderful day, and give someone you love a big hug!
1. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, First Perennial Classic edition publilshed 2002, page 3.
2. ibid., page 7
3. ibid., page 5