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What Harper Lee Still Tells Us

Hello everyone - this will be one of hopefully many reviews. I am hoping that I will get picked up by a literary magazine at some point, my writing is doing about as well as one could expect it given the nature of publishing in 2016. Please consider donating to Radical Second Things - remember that writing is not free. Thank you to those who have donated so far!

I had never read To Kill A Mockingbird before. It's a bit strange - I went through a period in high school when I read as much of the big, famous literature as I could but I leaned more toward Kurt Vonnegut, with more mainstream works falling by the wayside.

Like Vonnegut, Harper Lee faces some grim things by way of great prose and fiction. Through the eyes of a child, we see the false conviction and eventual execution of a black man, with the man in question clearly playing the role of patsy for white southerner's collective sense of failure.

The protagonist, Jean Louise Finch, is the daughter of the attorney who represents the accused black man. Her sense of justice is fed by her father but, like him, she also is a product of the society that she lives in. She gradually discovers both the hypocrisy and strangeness of people and the sense of both perplexity, isolation and disappoint that they bring. Humans genuinely love but they also hate brutally and horribly and the same people are often capable of both.

One of the greatest passages, after much of the plot has been told, is when the topic of Adolf Hitler comes up during one of Jean Louise's classes. Everyone in her class loathes Hitler and her teacher even lushes a great deal of fondness for the Jews, the group that was the target of Nazism:

“Old Adolf Hitler has been after the Jews and he’s puttin’ ‘em in prisons and he’s taking away all their property and he won’t let any of ‘em out of the country…He wants to register ‘em in case they might wanta cause him any trouble and I think this is a bad thing and that’s my current event.”

A hand went up in the back of the room. “How can Hitler just put a lot of folks in a pen like that, looks like the govamint’d stop him.”

 “Hitler is the government,” said Miss Gates. “That’s the difference between America and Germany. We are a democracy and Germany is a dictatorship. Over here we don’t believe in persecuting anybody. Persecution comes from people who are prejudiced. There are no better people in the world than the Jews, and why Hitler doesn’t think so is a mystery to me. They contribute to every society they live in. You’ll learn that the Jews have been persecuted since the beginning of history. Time for arithmetic, children.”

That was and is the real paradox of hate. We see it in others but rationalize it amongst ourselves. Jews in the United States were just another of its many immigrant groups and one that complemented American evangelical Christianity quite nicely. Anti-Semitism has never been a real serious thing in the United States as such. Jews were never strangers or byproducts of traumatic wars, as they were in Europe after the fall of the Roman empire, forced to integrate in a society that didn't really want them.

Blacks were and are, something Jean Louise's character picks up on fast. Soon after that lecture, she overhears Miss Gates opining about interracial marriage, which brings her to ask, "How can you hate Hitler so bad an' then turn around and be ugly about folks right at home?" That brings about a less than stellar response.

It's easy to see why Harper Lee's book was so successful - it touches on profound elements of human nature. Many Europeans I talk to likewise seem to have the reverse voice of the Americans in Lee's book. Their own history of intolerance is forgotten as they see the sorry, unhealthy spectacle the United States has become in 2016. Nevertheless, Europe is not without its own extremists even in our modern age.

A sequel, apparently long kept to Lee's self over decades, was released last year - To Set A Watchman. I haven't read it but plan to - my copy of To Kill A Mockingbird came with an advertisement for the release. I look forward to reading it.

Read more on Harper Lee at Jewish Daily Forward:


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About Radical Second Things

Michael Orion is a blogger, writer, artist and photographer based in the Bay Area. Besides his maintenance and promotion of Radical Second Things, he contributes to the San Francisco newspaper SF Western Edition, where he writes about local non-profit organizations.

Mark Cappetta is a practicing Catholic and active LGBT activist. He has been instrumental in keeping Radical Second Things and updates the Facebook account almost daily.

Eva Gnostiquette is an artist, programmer, "future scientist," bi-trans girl and graphic designer. She voluntarily helped to create the first print issue Radical Second Things and designed our beautiful banners. Thanks so much, Eva!

Jordan Denato is a professional artist based out of Iowa. He took the initiative to illustrate both Jennifer Reimer's story and Michael Orion's Oscar Romero work. He has his own art studio, Tar and Feather Studios, and is a critical part of Radical Second Things.

Radical Second Things is a liberation theology themed blog that has clear cut goals - we see the structural decline of the United States and much of the west and hope to present alternatives that will offer "a preferential option for the poor" as more become vulnerable.

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