When it comes to Harper Lee’s book, does Harper Lee matter?

Everyone is surprised and excited about Harper Lee’s new book, Go Set a Watchman, but with controversy surrounding her real intentions (whether she actually wants the book published or is being used by others) I found myself asking: does what Harper Lee actually want, think, or feel really matter? My brain pondered the startling and abrasive question for a moment and came back with this answer:

No.

Through the lens of history, Go Set a Watchman is already an important book through its relation to To Kill a Mockingbird. How this new work reflects upon its author will only add to our culture and history. Alarmists who believe Alice Lee intentionally prevented its publication for Harper’s benefit are missing the point, and while Alice Lee’s concerns (if there were any) may have been well founded half a century ago, today we must add to our considerations the historical significance of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Others have voiced concern that it will negatively impact our image of Harper because Go Set a Watchman is an earlier, less refined work. I suppose it’s touching that a person should be so concerned for Harper’s image, but we shouldn’t allow that to lull us into accepting this objection. So what if it’s an earlier & less refined book? Even if it turns out to be terrible, that Harper wrote a bad book doesn’t change the fact that she also wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, an incredible and brilliant one.

“But some people are just trying to make money off of Harper Lee’s work,” you cry? “They shouldn’t take advantage!”

This might be true, but I don’t find it alarming. Lots of people stand to profit monetarily from selling Harper’s new book and as long as Harper herself is one of them I don’t see a problem with that. In fact I’d rather all this be happening now while she’s still alive to enjoy it and have some say in how her money gets spent. The reality is that Go Set a Watchman was destined to be published the moment it was found to still exist, either by Harper herself or by her estate after her death. I’m not saying that it would be OK for Harper to be scammed out of her fair share, but those are issues that we cannot know about nor control, so why fret?

But finally, let’s consider this: Harper Lee is 88. I don’t know about her personally, but in my experience most folks tend to stop worrying so much about things at that age. Who are we to get in a tizzy about whether it’s right for a book to be published, when she’s probably just thrilled the book still exists at all? Who are we to be concerned about if it will be good when she’s just happy people want to read it?

 

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