Monday, August 17, 2015

Let's all be like Scout!

My grandchild gifted me with a copy of Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman, intuiting that I would want to read it. She was right. I devoured the book, and the two of us will have so much to talk about when we meet next week. (Yes, she has her own copy and will be ready to discuss the book, even if she's not finished.)

Harper Lee was herself young and working in New York, and being exposed to a bigger view of the world when she wrote this book about a young lady returning home and discovering that what she thought of her father and of her uncle, what she had internalized all her life about how people behaved with other people, what people thought of each other, all those old ideas came crushing down.

Her beloved father, (yes, the one portrayed in To Kill a Mockingbird, the lawyer who defended the black man accused of raping a young white female) the man she admired and held on a pedestal, her brilliant and kind, and benevolent father was just an ordinary Southerner who had participated in secret societies' thoughts and actions to keep the races separate and to maintain the old status quo.

How could that be, a now grown Scout asks. Most of the book is a quest to reconcile this tension,to find the key to understanding, to stand tall and deliberate at the crossroads of adulthood and ask the hard questions, prepared to lose her family, to leave her hometown and never return to a place of bigotry and tensions.

I want to ask my grandchild if she knew about this history of  race relations in America; if she had any idea of how whole towns, or states fought to suppress a whole race of people? How this tension is still with us in so many ways? How a certain group still feels superior and entitled to its privileged positions?

I'm an immigrant, and though I've lived in the West and in the South for decades, my understanding of American history is limited. A book like this sheds light on a long history of wounds and resentment; opens up conversations that are hard to have; sets the stage for parents and grandparents to search the thoughts and underlining biases their children have and begin to elaborate, to search, to confront, just like Scout did.

The conversation will not be easy between my grandchild and me. We'll discover biases we all hold, known and unknown; we'll defend our point of view with personal anecdotes. The book will help us bridge our divide a bit; the book will show us that talking and clearing the air is what we do when we disagree; that we can still love those who hold thoughts we abhor; that people are complex; that our personal history shapes us; that our circumstances may have shaped us to this moment. But, we, at any moment, knowing more history and getting more ideas, we can begin to clear wounds, declare our intentions to align our intention toward the truth that is superior and more  just.

Yes, a great conversation starter. Thank you, Harper Lee for this gift!   


Rubye Jack said...

Hi Rosaria,

I'm still looking forward to reading this but waiting for the library wait list to lessen.

I really don't think people are that complicated but they definitely make things complicated when they come together in groups. I think part of prejudice is innate in that we shy away from what is different as babies but as we learn to reason there is no excuse for prejudice. It is indeed a very infantile emotion.

Part of the problem is people are so afraid of not being PC that it is hard to talk about in a public forum. But, at least it is being talked about more often today. I do fear that certain white people who perceive themselves as being the elite, and sadly control much of the world, will stifle forward thinking and equality. It's not so much as the good old boys. They can be educated.

Maggie May said...

Hoping that the book binds you closer together.
Maggie x

LindyLou Mac said...

I reread To Kill A Mockingbird recently for one of the Book Clubs I am a member of. With that fresh in my mind and your post, looking forward to one day getting time to read this. Thanks for your insights Rosaria.

Helen said...

The last paragraph of your post is classic Rosaria! As soon as I finish "All The Light We Cannot See" Harper Lee's book is next on my reading list. Can't wait to hear all about the dialog between Grandmother and Granddaughter.

Tom Sightings said...

Thanks for your perceptive reaction to the book. It's on my reading list.

the walking man said...

In reality I find people have to work very hard to not be bigoted and are very comfortable in their racism, classism and every other form of segregation chosen. People think they NEED to be with others who look like, think like, vote like, church like they do so they won't stick out.

The real truth of the human comes out when they move far far away from their comfort zone and are not allowed to easily establish another, being the one on the outside for the first time. That is where the understanding starts--it makes sense that scouts father was an honest lawyer, as well as an honest Southern gentleman of the era. He was in is comfort zone in both places, but from you description Rosaria he was teaching scout the reality from the point of an honest lawyer, not the honest parent.

yaya said...

My hubby and I were just talking about the book yesterday. I haven't read it yet and find it almost sad to do so. I really loved the book "To Kill a Mockingbird" and the movie, and will find it hard to look at the characters differently. He said critics haven't given the new book...which was actually her first book...a good review and many readers haven't liked it either. I need to do my own critique and give it a fair shot. I'll be in your beautiful state tomorrow. I'm looking forward to seeing our son and his family and doing some more touring. Have a good week!

RNSANE said...

I will definitely have to read this. I am a Southern girl by birth ( Georgia ), raised by a very racist mother, one of 13 children of Mississippi sharecroppers. I left home at 17 to go to nursing school at Charity in New Orleans ( I leave India in Oct to go to my 50 year nursing school reunion ). When I was a student nurse, the hospital was divided up the middle into the 'white" side & the "colored' side. I stayed in New Orleans six years but hated all the bigotry there. It was my mother in stereo.

My sons, growing up in the melting pot that is San Francisco, always tried to talk reason into their grandmother, during her annual visit. Their friends & classmates would come over - &, often, spend the night - every Asian ethnicity, a couple of African Americans, Latinos, & a few Caucasians. You could tell my mother was never comfortable with these boys.

I told my sons that they should just try to love their grandmother, as she did them and to not feel they had failed if dialogue did not result in bringing forth change in my mother's racist opinions. They seemed to be able to do that though they never gave up on her.

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

It's on my list to read as well as re-reading "To Kill A Mockingbird" first. I love that you and your granddaughter are reading it and will be discussing it. No matter how difficult, even painful, your discussion may be, it's so important to share views and feelings across the generations.

Retired English Teacher said...

I loved reading your review. I read where others have said not to bother reading the book. Others have said it is an important book to read. I'm not sure if I will read it or not. I have so many others that interest me more. It is an important topic that is addressed in the book. I look forward to hearing the discussion you will have with your granddaughter.

Amanda Summer said...

I've heard different reviews of this book (not all good), so glad you are enthusiastic about it. Very interesting to read about the discussion you plan with your granddaughter about the difficult subject matter.

Midlife Roadtripper said...

I most certainly hope you post on that conversation with your grandchild. You've written a most poignant post here and certainly have offered much to think about. I find it most difficult to discuss these issues with many amongst me. Now with the political climate so completely strange I worry that more will never talk together. That those who need to speak up won't. Should be most interesting and I can only hope that in the end, we will have progress and not retreat into further ignorance.

Go Set the Watchman is on my summer reading list and next up, after Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. Maybe I need to move it up a notch.

troutbirder said...

Interesting take on it all. I liked your conclusions....:) We learn from many angles of things and need to remember that in making judgments...