Participants of the “Wyoming County Reads” program held the last of a series of round table discussions at the Tunkhannock Public Library on Wednesday (Feb. 24) on Harper Lee’s two novels ‘To Kill and Mockingbird’ and ‘Go Set a Watchman.’
The discussion was moderated by Professor of Psychology Marnie Hiester, and Professor of Social Work Jim Calderone, both of Misericordia University. In addition to the literary aspects of the two novels, the group also talked about racial and social issues, love, hatred, bigotry, the price of maturing from childhood to adulthood and a variety of other topics.
Early in the discussion, Calderone pointed out that there are “watchmen” and there are “mockingbirds” in our real lives, just as they are depicted in the novels.
“In my own life and in your lives, when you look back, like in grade school, those students in class, they may be not the brightest, they didn’t say very much, but there was a presence about them. And you still look back and simply their being there made a positive difference.”
The group speculated that Tom Robinson, from ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ was a mockingbird, and it demonstrated that to be a mockingbird, one does not have to have a deep seated purposed in life.
One subject of discussion which has been on the mind of many people reading both books is the difference in how Atticus was portrayed in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ compared to ‘Go Set a Watchman.’
“I think it’s interesting to talk about that with respect to the notions of good and evil,” Hiester explained. “Because in ‘Mockingbird,’ he’s (Atticus) presented as fairly heroic, and then in ‘Watchmen’ we see that in fact he is a racist, he holds racist views.”
Hiester continued by wondering if the character of Atticus portrayed in ‘Mockingbird,’ could be the same man depicted in ‘Watchman,’ given how complex human beings are.
Sandra Lee of Noxen said she believes the two depictions of Atticus demonstrate how as children we can hold an idealized view of our parents, but as we become adults, we realize that they are not perfect.
“They’re all the same people, but with different views,” Lee said.
“It’s very easy to look at folks in an idealistic way. And someone’s up on a pedestal, and something happens and, boom, there they go,” Calderone said, referring to how people can idealize others, then be disappointed when they turn out to be all too human.
Lee said that Atticus had to demonstrate to Scout that he is not the idealized person she thought he was when she was a little girl.
“I think he was trying to make her grow up,” Lee explained. “Trying to make her see him for being human.”
The group noted that ‘Watchmen’ had been written in the 1950s, and a person reading the novel today has the advantages of hindsight in seeing the flaws in Atticus’ arguments. The racial unrest that occurred in the South and other areas of the country during the 1960s was discussed, as well as the fact many of the things Atticus feared would come to pass did not happen when blacks assumed leadership roles in the country.
One of the things the group agreed upon about Atticus as he was portrayed in both books is that he is a “deep listener.”
“He seems to be someone who can ‘hold the tension,’ without necessarily severing ties or drawing the line,” Calderone said.
Given how many people reacted these days when confronted with an unpleasant situation, Calderone said he finds Atticus a strong force for good.
“His ability to do that is something to look up to and emulate,” Erica Rogler said. “But that takes maturity, that takes experience, and that takes patience to learn. It’s a skill.”