I have often believed that classics are those books everyone talks and raves about, but if they were asked to express their deepest feeling about it, I don’t know, I’m not so sure. Agreed that an experience with a book or anything for that matter is subjective, but I still do not know how you define a classic.
I had read ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ about 10 years back and the ideas that it endorses are what one could describe as the peak of idealism (Harper Lee doesn’t need my opinion about it, I am sure, but still what the heck!). But what actually made it a good read was the fact that it was written from the point of view of two children while handling a very sensitive issue at a time when the African Americans didn’t have the same rights and liberties as their Caucasian counterparts. America kind of cleared up the mess after a jolt in the form of the Civil Rights Movement spanning over 14 years starting in the early 1950s. We hear and read in the news that things are still not hunky-dory in the Southern American States. There is segregation, discrimination and deeper divide between various races including Hispanics, African Americans and Asians. You will almost think that this is all taking place small town India. Somewhere in UP, Uttarakhand, Chattisgharh, MP, Bihar, Jharkhand, Punjab or Haryana…. We can’t blame ourselves for thinking this way because we have seen all this and more in our beloved sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic republic, India. Yeah, we are the most racist of them all.
I haven’t read ‘Go Set A Watchman’ which is supposedly the original version of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird.’ The publishing house gave her a dressing down when they saw this version and asked her to tone down the story or change it altogether. She did the latter and the rest they say is history.
The idealistic, egalitarian and fair Atticus Finch, hero of Scout and Jem is shown in less flattering light in the original version of the story. The original story is set in the same premises with Atticus Finch being a less-than-ideal lawyer who didn’t believe in the equality of people belonging to other races and African American in particular. And this is a big departure from what we had perceived of the character. This is going to create ripples in the literary circles for sure.
Having said that, it is great to have Harper Lee back again with the real story she had originally set out to tell us some 50 years ago. With Scout and Jem as protagonist and Atticus Finch as their father and less-than-hero. With warts and all. But hey, bring it on because this is exactly how we see people as children and adults. We have an image of them as children and then we have an image of them as adults. The latter may be less than flattering. The reason being in childhood no such thing as disillusionment exists. Everything is possible. Everyone is the way they seem they are. Until you lose your innocence. And that’s when you realize people will be people and people change overtime. Their experiences take them through paths you’ve never travelled before and that’s what dictate the change. Overtime, the experiences are different and everyone change with or without them knowing it. Or sometimes they make a conscious effort to change. Or make a difference. But they do change all the same. Again and again!