Horatio

Horatio
[Photo by Jacquelyn Griffin)

Monday, July 13, 2015

Watching for the Watchman...

So, the benefit of pre-ordering is that my copy of Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman is arriving tomorrow. There's been more commentary about the novel, including thisinteresting piece about Tay Hohoff, who edited the book that became To Kill a Mockingbird. But then there's this, from CNN: "But now, some fans are saying they might not even read Lee's new book because of the racist revelation. They say ignorance can be bliss."

On Saturday, I pushed back against this a bit, on purely literary grounds. I stand by those, but let me add a little more.

Atticus Finch is a hero, no matter what he's like in decline. In the CNN piece linked above, filmmaker Mary Murphy points out that much of the Atticus we know is still there, including the warm, loving relationship with Jean Louise (no longer called Scout). But all the best heroes are real. Which means that they err, they sin, they fall.

That's what makes them, whether fictional or real-life, inspiring. If Theodore Roosevelt, the sickly, timid, boy, can grow up to be a great President--that gives us hope. Someone for whom courage comes easily--well, we can admire him or her, but what hope do they give? Samuel Clemens had to become a better man--he was born with the racism of his time and place, and learned to see it and call it out for the evil that it was; the resultant creation, Mark Twain, embodied that better man. John Donne, the coruscating witty love poet, developed to become one of the best devotional poets in the English language. William O. Douglas was one of the most passionate defenders of the rights of minorities and the marginalized in the history of American law. He was, quite often, not a very nice man. Holmes's faith in humanity was shot out of him on the battlefields of the Civil War. And yet he tried to honor the ideas he had once held in his life.

The list goes on. I'll add one, known to me personally. My late friend Bud was a difficult man. Certainly not a hero, Bud was tetchy, disappointed in life, and had to struggle to maintain the lines of communication with the members of my family, whom I know he loved. Maybe more of a hero than we gave him credit for, thug, because, despite his drive to isolate himself--he never quite managed it. He found reservoirs of warmth in himself, and, scowling to hide his amusement, would trade quips with me.

I think we all do that to some extent, try to recreate ourselves with the virtues we lack, and overcome our baser selves. Sometimes we relapse. And, so I'm glad I'll get to make the acquaintance of the shadow side of Atticus Finch, that rare lawyer of virtue.

He gives me hope.

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