Harper Lee’s death hits home for Jeff Deminski
If there were ever a great American novel it has to be To Kill A Mockingbird. It has been ranked more influential than the Bible. Harper Lee wrote this masterpiece, and I'm sad to hear the news of her death.
Harper Lee lived to be 89. Certainly a good, long life.
I have a very personal reason for being sad at her passing. My 5 month old boy Atticus was named after her character Atticus Finch, a lawyer who takes on a racially charged case in the deep south and who stands up for what's right. There's a monument dedicated to Atticus Finch at the old courthouse in Harper Lee's hometown. It's the only monument to a fictional character I've heard of.
He's an ideal. Certainly a role model. The film adaptation shows Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in one of my all time favorite movie scenes. Atticus has gone to the home of Tom Robinson, a black man who was wrongly convicted and then shockingly, suspiciously killed. Tom was his client and he went to the home to tell his wife that he was killed. Outside, the drunken racist trash known as Bob Ewell confronts the lawyer and spits right in his face.
At first you see a flash of the power and anger Atticus could unleash on this man. Instead, he never breaks eye contact while simply reaching for his handkerchief and slowly wiping away the saliva, making it as meaningless as the racist likes of Bob Ewell himself.
Atticus Finch took the high road. He was kind, strong, resolute, wise. He judged people by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin before it was fashionable to do so. I have an even deeper affinity for this character because he was a middle aged man raising two children all alone. I can relate to that. That was my life before I met my wife.
She is a language arts teacher, what we used to call an English teacher. Her favorite book has always been To Kill A Mockingbird. When we started trying to have a baby, it wasn't a very long discussion in picking a name. If it were a boy, the name would be Atticus.
To make things challenging, Aubree was 6 months pregnant in July of last year and the name we chose had already been shared with everyone dear to us when Go Set A Watchman was published. This book was the only other work published by Harper Lee and was highly controversial. It was actually the original rough draft of what would later be reworked into To Kill A Mockingbird. It was at the suggestion of a publisher that she take this rough draft and completely redo it from the point of view of the main character as a young girl. That young girl was Scout.
The biggest part of the controversy stemmed from the character Atticus. In this rough draft he was originally written as an old man and imperfect with some racist undertones. Not at all, not even close, to the Atticus we who were huge fans of To Kill A Mockingbird had come to know and love.
People need to remember of course that this was only a rough draft, was not a sequel, was not the real Atticus so to speak. Still, my wife and I struggled with this. Everything the well known version of Atticus Finch stood for was being challenged by this monstrosity. At the very time we had picked this name for our baby, who would be born only two months later, we had to worry if the name Atticus had been ruined. Would people think we somehow supported this new version of the beloved character? After days of deliberating, I finally sat my wife down and basically asked her what would our Atticus Finch do in this situation?
He of course would stand by his decision, not be deterred by any pettiness of others. Our son, who may not grow up to be a lawyer but who we hope will grow up with the strength and values of our beloved Atticus Finch, was born on September 12th, 2015. Harper Lee, who created Atticus Finch, died February 19th, 2016.