My rating: 5 of 5 stars
(Via Hardback AND Audio read by Reese Witherspoon).
Harper Lee is Isaiah. And I think she is the most brave and truthful writer the American South has ever produced. I wish there were another book hidden in the stacks.
Old Testament prophets served the purpose of convicting the people and pronouncing the woeful truth of the sin of their ways. Lee's tight novel does the same with all Americans (not just the South), all hypocrites, all prejudiced persons, and all bigots. Yes, even Christians.
I think about Christians and hypocrites and prejudice often, but I rarely think of bigotry, which Jean Louise reminds us is: “One obstinately or intolerably devoted to his own church, party, belief, or opinion.” See any of those lately? Been one? Yeah, me, too.
"For thus hath the Lord said unto me,
Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth."
In other words, brace yourselves, because Jean Louise is going to let her rip. She's going to convict everyone she knows, including her beloved father, and including herself. She’s going to convict you and me, the South, the North, and all of our parents and grandparents, too. She’s convicting America.
This short book is told in the same tone as the first famous beloved book, and the childhood moments are just as magical. The grown moments are extremely tough, but in my opinion, a true representation of the South at the time. The biggest difference is that the punch comes from Jean Louise, rather than the beloved young scamp Scout (acerbic grown woman verses strange but loveable girl). It’s a bitter pill to swallow, just as bitter as all the prophet pronouncements in the Old Testament. The punch also comes through one of the most beloved characters in American literature history: Atticus Finch.
Some will feel robbed of a hero but I do not. Rather, I feel convicted to continue standing firm in my beliefs in a rational way and trying to make a difference in my world, and in fact within my own soul.
On a personal level, this is the story of the disillusionment of the 60s. It is the story of a child that trusted her parent and sprinted to the finish line, only to realize that another finish line was ahead so that she raced on, to be brutally stopped dead upon looking back over her shoulder because she finds that her demigod of a parent cannot go there as fast as she - if at all. Surely, we have all been there? Surely this is what the generations do to each other? It is change and it is not easy. We continue to strive to be better, to overcome.
On a legal level, the discussion is the 10th Amendment -- State's Rights. It is a long history of legal theory and has lead to an official bloody war on our soil only once, but the blood and hardship strewn by its theorists across our American ages still reverberate.
As much as we might not like it, I think Lee's version of the events of the southern civic resistance to desegregation is true. If in fact, the Atticus Finches of the day had been 100% free of fault and the leaders that they could have been, the Supreme Court and the Federal Government would not have had to rule for and enforce desegregation. I feel sure that given the time to make improvements on its on, the South still would not be segregated. As Hank and Alexandra show, there were just too many social mores to cross and too few brave souls to cross them. [As to education improvements, we flounder for one and for all public school students. Can we PLEASE STOP ALL THIS IDIOTIC TESTING!!!! Sorry, rant over].
I think the only way this book could be published is the way it was published. I was not ready to be happy about it. And honestly it is not a book to make one feel good. But I’m glad the truth is finally out. I’m glad we know. I’m glad we get a chance to self-reflect – ALL of us – and march forward. It’s surreal that this story was published while racial tensions are at an extreme high, and right after another huge United Supreme Court ruling. Can we not be brave and be a part of the solution, instead of continuing to be as polarized and bigoted as we possibly can? Show me the way, someone please show me the way.
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