The Return of Harper Lee

By Crystal Zhao

Nelle Harper Lee, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird, has been a staple of American literature since the summer of 1960. Lee’s loose interpretations of her childhood observations were immediately successful. Readers praised the light and familiar tone as well as the skillful, thought-provoking themes of racial injustice, rape, class, innocence, and gender roles. Since then, her book has graced bookshelves across the world. The author herself has been reclusive.

Harper Lee is 88 this year. Up until now, Harper Lee has only ever published one book: To Kill a Mockingbird. She has started numerous works and even aided good friend Truman Capote in writing his book In Cold Blood, but has otherwise been regarded as, with all due respect and admiration, a one-hit-wonder. But on February 2, she proved the literary world wrong by announcing her intent to publish a sequel. Titled Go Set a Watchman, it is set twenty years after the events in her first book, but in actuality it was written before To Kill a Mockingbird. It will be published in in July this year with no revisions.

Both literary critics and avid readers, like myself, are excited for this continuation of the Finch family’s stories. Lee’s voice is unique and revolutionary in literature. She writes with the careless and blunt tongue of a young tomboy while also letting the well-formed opinions and wisdom of a conscious, intelligent woman bleed through. She narrates the complexities of a community that seems simple from the surface, reminding us that people are never who they seem at first glance. In an era of racial segregation, Lee introduces readers to a white man who pretends to be a drunkard to gain social acceptance of his friendships with black people. She creates a character who is so scarred by a childhood of public rejection that, as an adult, he is afraid to leave his house. Even her villains aren’t so much cold-blooded antagonists but products of a system, and her heroes aren’t golden boys but crotchety old women struggling with morphine addiction.

I read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time in 2011, 51 years after it was originally published, and I found it immensely thought-provoking in the way that ageless classics affect readers. Since then, I have reread it at least eight times, riding the crest of the same emotional and intellectual tsunami every time. Reading Go Set a Watchman will undoubtedly be like a reunion with an old friend. Scout will be all grown up, while I still haven’t even gotten my temps. Infused with the sagacity of Harper Lee, Scout, whether seven or twenty-seven, will always be wiser than I am. It’s striking to think that whether Lee is a spry young lady or a bedridden elderly woman, she still manages to affect people with the mighty power of her pen.

Source: Mother Jones