I read the early reviews and knew the mysteries surrounding Harper Lee’s second book—the prequel or sequel depending on the conspiracy theory. It took ten months of gathering courage before I'd crack the spine.
Dismissing the controversy and wading through a rough prose, I embraced one (and only one) aspect of the book. Atticus falls. The man I admired from primary school fell from his throne. Scout, true to her quick tongue and ill-confirming mind, dies inside after witnessing her father’s involvement in a segregationist council. Her disillusion breaks her soul.
I clung to her emotions—and remembered my own slow death. And birth.
Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee was published nearly a decade before Lee’s sophomore novel. Charles J. Shields painted Lee and her family with candid humanity, describing A.C. Lee (the inspiration for Atticus) as a good man, but “not a saint.”
I was in elementary school and my birthday fell on Martin Luther King, Jr Day. He was my first pick for researching a historical figure. He was the catalyst, the spark that ignited a nation into action. I was two weeks into the research when I found evidence of his personal life. My stomach flipped, triggering me to find more information—he was a good man, I just needed to debunk the betrayal of his family. The more I read, the sicker I became.
I abandoned him. I turned to Thomas Jefferson. It took less time to destroy his Godlike image. Thomas Edison. Joseph Smith. Mahatma Gandhi. Steve Jobs.
So many heroes demolished with the power of knowledge. These figures changed the world, they set standards to aspire to. Much like Scout, I felt the floor crumble beneath my feet.
It’s only when Scout’s uncle clarifies her pain, the severing of her conscious from her father, Atticus. The unattainable vision of her father’s perfection disintegrated.
The men I revered were heroes—but they were also men. They stumbled, they fell. After hours of dissecting Go Set a Watchman, I realized Atticus was again a man to respect. Not for his believes but for his patience. Scout is called a bigot—she shouts her own reason as gospel instead of pausing long enough to listen. I agree with Scout’s fervor for equality but not her disregard for others’ beliefs. I destroyed the lives of great men because of my beliefs instead of listening to their story.
I offend. I hurt. But there’s some worth in me, there’s some influence for good surrounding me. We’re human—even heroes.
Thank you, Nelle Harper Lee, for teaching me once more.