Harper Lee’s Masterpiece


t’s the 50th Anniversary of the publishing of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” and there’s plenty being written about the novel, the author’s only one published.

It has been one my favorite reads since either middle or high school (I can’t remember when I first read it) and I have reread it several times just to enjoy Lee’s simple, unpretentious style that gently takes you by the hand and takes to some truly shocking and traumatic events.
On another personal note, for a while, my family lived in a small Southern town that seemed like a latter day version of Maycomb, Ala. although it was in Eastern North Carolina. Lee’s vivid descriptions rang true of how the older buildings looked, how close and yet far apart personal relations were between the races, how kind most people were and no one ever really expected much — what they had was good enough.
Coming out when it did, Lee’s novel was one of the most influential books. The civil rights movement was in full swing, as was the sexual revolution, and not many books were aimed at children and were seen through a young girl’s eyes dealing with such adult issues as racism, lynching and rape.
In 1963, three years after the novel’s publication, Gregory Peck starred in a brilliant movie that punched Lee’s themes home even more and appealed to a much broader audience. As such, the novel and the movie defined what the then-in-the-news South was like for many a Yankee.
Sure, the novel has it critics who complain that it creates straw images of Southern people and culture and that Truman Capote, Lee’s close friend, might have ghost written it. Naturally, reaction against the novel resonated in reactionary Virginia. The School Board of Hanover County near Richmond tried to ban it in 1966 after parents complained about the sex and rape. Lots of other school boards did, too. But let’s not forget that in Virginia at the time, it was a felony for a white to marry an African-American. After all, white Mayella had a hankering for black Tom Robinson.
There are other themes that still have relevance today. In this morning’s Wall Street Journal, columnist Peggy Noonan pines for older leaders to help guide young ones such as Barack Obama. Atticus Finch is a great role model, she notes, especially because he was the loving father, an adult who knew the world is vicious and provided wise counsel and protection. We need more Atticus types these days, she says, and she well may be right.
The idea of Atticus as the essential Good Dad runs counter to another provocative article, called “The End of Men” in the Atlantic. This a frightening piece, especially for a male like myself, since it shows just how irrelevant the male sex has become as females become better educated, take more jobs and may be better-suited for the demands of post-industrial society.
Guys like us can’t all be Atticus, but it might be worth trying. I am a father and I have found it terrifying for the past 22 years. Meanwhile, “To Kill a Mockingbird” endures.
Peter Galuszka

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One response to “Harper Lee’s Masterpiece”

  1. "The End of Men"

    Interesting article.

    It stands to reason that alimony and child support are the two things that contribute the most to a Man's downfall in modern society….go figure.

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