The Feb. 20 Style critique “Remember, it’s a sin to kill a legacy” raised an important issue of authors being treated like commodities. I agree that had Harper Lee’s papers been deposited with a responsible library or institution, the world would not be afflicted with “Go Set a Watchman.”
But this logic also works in the other direction. We expect godlike attributes from authors and their authorial voice. “To Kill a Mockingbird” became the bible for racial justice and reconciliation. The world took from the work what it wanted for its own purposes.
I fear that the objections to “Watchman” were not just literary and aesthetic but also political and moral. It upset people’s fantasies of a Christ-like white man, Atticus Finch, who fights racial injustice. It destroyed the long-cherished romance of human goodness and grace.
An author’s greatness these days is measured by his or her ability to edify and liberate. Such interpretative agendas are more problematic when imposed on much older works. We hear only about the supposedly liberating and activist elements in William Shakespeare’s works. For the sake of creative freedom and intellectual honesty, authors as well as scholars deserve more autonomy from the zeitgeist.
Rajiv Thind, Washington
The “tragic story” of Harper Lee? Let’s see: She publishes a novel beloved by readers in its own time and one that, more than a half-century after publication, continues to move millions of new readers each year. Hollywood, instead of botching the job, sensitively translates the book into one of the greatest movies of all time.
Many years later, the author makes her exit by publishing another novel that shatters sales records. Though a lesser work, it inspires new and impassioned conversations about literature and race in America. History will place “Go Set a Watchman” in its proper context, and “To Kill a Mockingbird” will hold its position as one of the most beloved works of American literature.
If you think that all adds up to a tale of woe, check out the line running out the door, around the block and over the horizon: It’s writers hoping to experience the same tragedy.
Charles Slack, Trumbull, Conn.
The critique “Remember, it’s a sin to kill a legacy” succinctly captured the essence of what “To Kill a Mockingbird” and its refreshingly pure author have meant to all of us and the crass exploitation of that author when she was failing and defenseless. Clearly those who saw fit to publish “Go Set a Watchman” felt no obligation to our culture or to the reputation of a beloved writer. Shame on them.
David Blomquist, Frederick