I had every intention of reading The Color Purple but Harper Lee won’t leave me alone yet. I’m finding it hard to emerge from the world she created in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Harper Lee is a genius. She wrote a book about racism in 1961, when America was just starting to come to terms with it. She had already created a nearly flawless character in Atticus Finch, that rarity of rarities, a Southern man in the 1930’s who was not a racist, and she could have easily shown us that world through his eyes.
Instead, she showed us that world through the eyes of a seven-year-old girl.
In the scene where Atticus is reading outside the jail with Tom Robinson inside, we read that a large group of men pull up in their cars and tell Atticus, “You know why we’re here.” We do know why. They are the KKK without the sheets and they’ve come to lynch Tom Robinson. But the book says nothing of the kind. We’re seeing the scene through Scout’s eyes and she’s not old enough to know why those men are there. Later when she spots Mr. Cunningham in the group of men, she says Hey to him. She is only doing what she has been taught, to be polite to people. She has no idea she defused the entire situation and shamed all those men into going home. Scout didn’t know it, so Harper did not write it.
If the book had been written with Atticus as the narrator, Harper Lee would have explained everything that happened. And then the book could have veered dangerously close to being preachy. Like I said, she is a genius.
To Kill a Mockingbird is not a preachy book. Atticus rarely tells his children why bigotry is wrong. He shows them through his actions, by treating everyone with respect and kindness.
Obviously, there was someone in Harper Lee’s life who did the same when she was a child. Lucky girl.
Right after Scout finally meets Boo, she walks him home, he lets go of her hand, opens his front door then closes it behind him. Harper wrote, “I never saw him again in my life.”
That sounds like Harper Lee’s life. She had one book in her, the book of her childhood, she wrote it, then disappeared from the outside world. Everything I wrote in this post is my conjecture. She’s never confirmed anything because she won’t speak of it. She is Boo Radley.
The Color Purple is too heavy, too serious to read after Mockingbird. I’ll get to it, but I need something light first. I see The Art of Fielding on my shelf. (Actually, I see nothing of the sort. The Art of Fielding is two clicks away on my Kindle, but it sounds much more romantic to see it on a shelf.)
The Art of Fielding came out in 2011 and made every list of Best Books of the Year. I’ve only read it once, which is good for me, but I don’t remember all of it. I forget what happens with Pella. But it’s light and whimsical with the right amount of sadness. Plus it has baseball. That sounds like the perfect remedy to escape from 1930’s Alabama.
Someone once asked me what my idea of heaven was. I said The Library of Congress alongside a beach with an unlimited supply of hot, fresh coffee and a baseball game every afternoon.
I’ll see you again soon, Harper.