Harper Lee, we hardly knew ye …

Though less than a year old, the last blog post on jesustheheresy.com certainly now seems a bit dated. Titled Harper Lee & Mary Magdalene, the post evaluated the “reality and myth embedded in Go Set a Watchman,” the then recently discovered and now published original version of what would be re-written back in the 1950s – morphing to become To Kill a Mockingbird.  

In the last post, it was suggestedthat both Ms. Lee and Mary Magdalene of two millennia past share similar features of reality interwoven with myth. With the Magdalene, the biblical and non-biblical evidence is clear that she brought the early disciples and eventual founders of Christianity back together when they were ready to call it quits after the death of their savior. The question arises: how much of this leadership was due to the nature of her unique relationship with Jesus the Christ? Was Mary the visionary leader or the still fallen woman?

Described by some as “the greatest novel of all time,” Mockingbird is a story of justice triumphing over inbred human venality. But now with contending works of To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman, we are left to ponder the inter-relationship of the author with the subject(s) of her stories. Was the beloved father Atticus Finch the the virtuous civil rights advocate portrayed in Mockingbird? Or was he really the undying racist depicted by Watchman. As our blog of July 2015 asked: “Will the real 89-year old Harper Lee please tell us what we should really think?”

But she hasn’t. For less than two months ago – on February 19, 2016 – Harper Lee passed from this earthly scene in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. And with her never-ending reticence to reveal where the truth in fiction really lies.

Contrast Ms. Lee’s retiring style to the person described as the “father of American literature” – Mark Twain. Like Harper Lee, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn exemplified what equality of the races could be about but Twain nevertheless found his books banned in more recent times for use of racist slang. Unlike Ms. Lee, Twain relished the limelight. The world would know of his successes and failures as they occurred. The paradox of a man who wrote great literature but who in old age became known as the critic of other writers, even the critic of critics. Who went bankrupt but  lived to pay off his creditors.

In the wake of the controversy surrounding Go Set a Watchman, it is easy to criticize the author for allowing release of a work that undermines the virtue of Mockingbird. Easy to ask whether her principles were pure or nuanced. But she conveniently departed, leaving us all guessing.

Mark Twain, America knew ye more than we sometimes wanted. Harper Lee, we hardly knew ye … and that’s ok.


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