Magazine article Tablet Magazine

Adam Kirsch on Harper Lee's Failure of Nerve after 'Go Tell a Watchman'

Magazine article Tablet Magazine

Adam Kirsch on Harper Lee's Failure of Nerve after 'Go Tell a Watchman'

Article excerpt

Toward the end of To Kill a Mockingbird, there is a scene set in Scout Finch's classroom, where the children are studying current events. The novel is set in the mid-1930s, and so it make sense that one student should bring in a newspaper clipping about Hitler's persecution of the Jews. The teacher, Miss Gates, earnestly deplores the way Hitler is treating Jews"There are no better people in the world than the Jews, and why Hitler doesn't think so is a mystery to me," she declaresand she seizes the occasion to instill a lesson in civics. "That's the difference between America and Germany," Miss Gates says. "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."

The irony, like all the ironies in Lee's 1960 classic, hits the reader head-on. For we have just been through the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman, and seen how the town of Maycomb, Alabama, demands his conviction even though he is obviously innocent. …

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