November 27, 2022

To wound a mockingbird

The literary world, what remains of it, is currently in a Confederate flag-type battle about “Go Set a Watchman,” a novel from Harper Lee, the author who wrote “To Kill a Mockingbird,” everyone’s favorite anti-racism primer.

Briefly, in “Go Set a Watchman,” ideal father, bigotry battler and fictional character Atticus Finch opposes integration.

And tens of millions of grown up, “sensitive kids” see their dream of the ideal, socially conscious daddy go up in smoke.

Remember when you read “Mockingbird” in high school? Sure you do. Your real dad was a cigarette smoking fat guy who loudly and frequently expressed his wish that the neighborhood wouldn’t “go colored.” What a disgusting racist Dad was.

But fantasy daddy Atticus Finch was honorable and brave and did not tell jokes in which black men were caricatured as well-endowed baboons who loved watermelon and welfare.

Unfortunately, in the latest novel, Atticus Finch, the Spider-Man of the racial equality movement, says he is, uh, less than comfortable with the idea of black people being allowed to, well, allowed to do whatever white people do.

Which, despite the fact that your family lived in a Polish neighborhood in Chicago, is exactly the way your father felt, and is why you now live in a white suburb of Chicago instead of in the neighborhood where you were raised. Although you say it’s because your suburb has “good schools.” I bet your suburb doesn’t have a street named Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, either.

The real reason so many of us are angry about the new novel and Atticus Finch’s “dark side” is that we are not a nation that deals with nuance.

We are the mullahs of certainty, the ISIS of one-sidedness. If you’re conservative, everything any liberal says about anything is, “liberal BS.” If you’re liberal, everything every conservative says is “neo-con fascism.” Barack Obama’s a saint. No, he’s a communist. There’s nothing in between.

Comic books are written with that mindset, not novels, not good novels. Your father was a good man and then again, he wasn’t. Is that possible? Yes. It is. It’s hard to explain that if what you want is a cardboard cutout for a father, but it’s possible.

Life isn’t a pencil sketch. It has more than one dimension. People who see in only one dimension end up standing over a kneeling prisoner, knife in hand, ready to behead someone for the greater glory of Allah.

Bravo to Harper Lee, for giving us good writing and a good character who fails to be perfect, fails horribly, in fact, bravo to Harper Lee for pulling the rug of righteousness out from under so many people at once. You should get that from good writing.

And, after you read the book, give a thought to your old man.

Maybe he wasn’t perfect, but he was real.

Marc Dion is a nationally syndicated columnist. Dion’s latest book, “Marc Dion: Volume I,” is a collection of his best 2014 columns and is available for Kindle and Nook.