Tag Archives: Harper Lee

A Tragic Day for Literature: Umberto Eco and Harper Lee

Yesterday was a truly tragic day for literature. We lost two of our most treasured writers. Ms. Harper Lee passed away at the age of 89, and the great Umberto Eco died at the age of 84. I find it difficult to express how deeply I am saddened.

Umberto Eco was my favorite writer. I think why I felt such a connection to him is because he did it all. He wrote amazing literary analysis that is insightful and thought-provoking. He tackled complex social issues in essays that were both witty and complex. Finally, he wrote such rich novels that were mysterious, philosophical, and engaging. I cannot sing this man’s praises enough. His genius is reflected in everything that he wrote, and there is much out there to read.

In contrast to the prolific Eco, Harper Lee essentially wrote one book that changed the world. If anyone ever suggests that writing is a frivolous pursuit, you need only mention To Kill a Mockingbird and how that one book impacted society. And yes, Ms. Lee also recently published Go Set a Watchman, but it can be argued that this was the draft of what would be her masterpiece. Harper Lee was the literary equivalent to a one-hit-wonder in music, but that one hit delivered one of the most powerful blows in literature.

Although they are gone, their works will live on to inspire. The world suffers the loss of these two literary geniuses. I guess I can only feel grateful that I lived at the same time as these two brilliant writers.

Here are links to some of my past posts discussing Eco’s and Lee’s works. May they both rest in peace.


 

Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco


 

Harper Lee

Harper Lee

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Why It’s Important to Read “Go Set a Watchman” by Harper Lee

GoSetWatchman

Before I started reading this book, I had heard the harsh criticism directed toward it. I decided not to let it stop me from reading the book and inquired of my Facebook friends if anyone had a copy I could borrow. My friend Amy came forth and said she had one which she had preordered and was still in the box. She said based upon what she heard, she could not bring herself to even open it. I told her I would let her know my thoughts and whether she should read it or not. After finishing, I say yes, read it. Here’s why.

First off, everyone needs to understand that this is not To Kill a Mockingbird, nor is it as good. Let’s be realistic—it would be quite a feat for any author to write two books of that caliber. But there is still an important message here that I feel is relevant to our current society.

OK, yes, Atticus Finch expresses racist ideas in this book. Now ask yourself: Why does that make you so angry and uncomfortable? While racism is repugnant and offensive, Atticus is a fictional character. So this visceral reaction that people have is something more than just a reaction to racism, and this gets to the heart of why reading this book is important. The negative response to this book, in my opinion, is because a person that we have come to idolize, albeit a fictional person, has failed to live up to our idealized expectations. This need that our culture has to expect our heroes and idols to be perfect is a real problem in our society. We place political leaders, sports stars, writers, artists, and so forth, all on pedestals and we want them to be perfect. One flaw, one aspect about them that does not agree with our image of how they should be, and we attack them viciously. It is a serious problem. With the election coming up, I hear people saying “I cannot support ________ because of his/her stance on _________.” It’s not a question of how good the candidate is, or whether that person would be the better leader; it is a question of whether that person meets ALL our expectations. If not, then they are not worthy in our eyes. Now it seems we have projected our expectations of perfection onto fictional characters as well. For me, there is something really wrong with this picture.

The irony here is that having our idols fall from grace is actually what this book is about. In the story, Jean Louise (Scout) sees her father fall from the proverbial pedestal. For many of us, our parents are our first idols, those we look up to for guidance and wisdom. It is often devastating when we are forced to confront the fact that our parents, like all our idols, have their flaws.

It happened so quickly that her stomach was still heaving. She breathed deeply to quieten it, but it would not stay still. She felt herself turning green with nausea, and she put her head down; try as she might she could not think, she only knew, and what she knew was this:

The one human being she had ever fully and wholeheartedly trusted had failed her; the only man she had ever known to whom she could point and say with expert knowledge. “He is a gentleman, in his heart he is a gentleman,” had betrayed her, publicly, grossly, and shamelessly.

(p. 113)

Dealing with the disillusion that accompanies the realization that your idols (particularly parental ones) are not what you envision can have profound consequences, as evidenced by the plethora of patients seeking counseling for family issues. This is why it’s important to read this book, and face the fact that no one that we idolize can possibly meet our expectations. The expectations we set for other people by nature are not attainable.

I will close with another quote from this book which I thought was great.

Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends.

(pp. 270 – 271)

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The House as a Symbol in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”

ToKillAMockingbird

It’s difficult to believe that I have only now gotten around to reading this masterpiece. I’ve seen it performed on stage, seen the film, and actually met Gregory Peck at a dinner reception and discussed the writer’s role in filmmaking with him, but it was my daughter wanting to read this book with me, kind of as a father/daughter mini book club, that finally motivated me to buy a copy.

This book is so rich that it would be easy to write multiple blog posts exploring the many facets. You could obviously approach it from its frank addressing of racism, as an exploration of Southern culture, or as a coming-of-age tale. For my post, I’ve decided to pick one symbol and explore it a little deeper: the house.

In this book, Ms. Lee uses the symbol of the house to represent one’s psyche. As with every person, there are two parts to the psyche: the one which we show to others and the one that is hidden away. To understand how this symbol applies to this story, keep in mind that the inside of a home represents a person’s inner thoughts and feelings, while the outside of the home signifies that part of someone which that person decides to make public and known. For example, in the book, no one knows exactly what happens within the Radley house. We know that Boo suffers from mental illness, so the inside of the house becomes a symbol for the thoughts of someone who is mentally sick.

“You reckon he’s crazy?”

Miss Maudie shook her head. “If he’s not he should be by now. The things that happen to people we never really know. What happens in houses behind closed doors, what secrets—“

(p. 46)

Disturbing a person within their home implies that you are attempting to pry into that person’s private thoughts. When the children are spying on the Radley house and trying to see inside, they are essentially trying to sneak a peek into someone’s psyche and discover the secrets buried deep within that person’s mind.

What Mr. Radley did was his own business. If he wanted to come out, he would. If he wanted to stay inside his own house he had the right to stay inside free from the attentions of inquisitive children, which was a mild term for the likes of us. How would we like it if Atticus barged in on us without knocking, when we were in our rooms at night? We were in effect doing the same thing to Mr. Radley. What Mr. Radley did might seem peculiar to us, but it did not seem peculiar to him. Furthermore, had it ever occurred to us that the civil way to communicate with another being was by the front door instead of a side window? Lastly, we were to stay away from the house until we were invited there, we were not to play a asinine game he had seen us playing or make fun of anybody on this street or in this town—

(p. 49)

Another great example of the inside of a house symbolizing the inner aspects of a person’s psyche is the inside of Mrs. Dubose’s house. Mrs. Dubose suffered from morphine addiction and the inside of her home reflects the inner turmoil and pain associated with drug addiction.

Jem planted his big toe delicately in the center of the rose and pressed it in. Finally he said, “Atticus, it’s all right on the sidewalk but inside it’s—it’s all dark and creepy. There’s shadows and things on the ceiling…”

(p. 105)

Jem and Scout, being allowed entrance into Mrs. Dubose’s house to read Ivanhoe to her as punishment, are exposed to the shadowy realm of her consciousness, where she is haunted by the darkness of her addiction.

At one point in the story, Scout wants to invite Walter Cunningham over to the house for dinner. Aunt Alexandra tells her that she should not do so, that it is OK to be nice to someone, but that does not mean that you should invite that person into your home. Essentially, she is advising Scout to be careful regarding who she allows to know the deeper parts of her thoughts and feelings.

“I didn’t say not to be nice to him. You should be friendly and polite to him, you should be gracious to everybody, dear. But you don’t have to invite him home.”

(p. 224)

There are many other great examples of how houses reflect the psyche’s of those who live there, and if you read this book again, I encourage you to think about how houses symbolize the minds of those who inhabit them.

On a closing note, I’m sure many of you have heard that Harper Lee is getting ready to publish the “sequel” to To Kill a Mockingbird later this year. I for one am looking forward to it and plan to read it once it comes out. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you have a wonderful and inspiring day!!

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