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Harper Lee Sets A Watchman When The African Mocking Bird Is Already Killed

The months of July are usually the months of literature in Africa. It is like the months of April in Britain. In Britain April is important because it is month in which Shakespeare’s death is commemorated with diverse literary festivals. Coming to home here in Africa, July comes with literary news always; it is the month in which Okot P’Bitek, Nadine Gordimer and Masizi Kunene died.

But for this year the Months of July was globally significant in literary sense. Two great books have been ushered to the global literary stage in a dint of literary pomp and acclaim. The two books are Stalin’s Daughter by Rosemary Sullivan and the second book is Go Set a watch-man by Harper Lee, the author of the last century classic To Kill the Mocking Bird . Sullivan explores human struggle to mend a punctured personal identity by the girl, Svetlana Alliluyeva Stalin .

The girl who grew up in the monstrous and brutal shadow of her father, Josef Stalin of Russia. Stalin’s Daughter did not very much touch on the Africa’s literary cord .But the forth coming, Got Set Watchman by Harper Lee, is effective and only fries African readers in a pan of hot emotions given the content and the impact of its prequel To Kill the Mocking Bird. Hence it calls for attention of readers and writers from Africa. An attention under a soul-search that why set a watchman now when the African mocking bird is already killed?

A global treat to Go Set a Watchman comes to a most extraordinary thing about the author Harper Lee, the lack of generosity that has greeted it in so many reviews around the world. It began with the very skeptical and undignified caution as to whether Lee was mentally stable enough to write another book. Given that it is more than fifty five years ago since she wrote her first and last book. The question has been is Go Set a Watchman going to be as good as To Kill the Mocking Bird?

In this juncture a neutral response calls for balanced view. To negate and affirm genuinely. Theory of literature can easily help us to affirm that Lee’s writing of Go Set Watchman is the most interesting literary phenomenon of our time. It should not be charged on the basis of the literary superiority displayed by the author in the To Kill a Mockingbird. The truth is that this book is not just a marketing delight. It is an intellectually provoking and emotionally taxing book. It grapples with complex issues of our time. Racism and terrorism like the one encountered in the Charlie Hebdo terror attack.

Some reviewers promise the readers a shock by the revelation that the heroic Atticus Finch, whom we superbly admired in To Kill a Mockingbird, is now a card-carrying racist. Atticus Finch now reflects to us the three South American instances of Michael brown, the Ferguson shooting and the murderous Dylan Roof who went on the rampage in Charleston to shoot and kill seven black Christians in the charge. Is this an allegorical twist by Harper Lee to pass off an apology to the white supremacists for her pro Negro stand she took in the previous work? Hypothetical.

Harper Lee a white American is not actually the lone ranger in the realm of literary struggle for truth, democracy and racial justice. She came on stage when other voices were equally loud; Alex Haley had questioned the origin of all Americans in the Roots, The same way Lawrence Hill had done in the Book of the Negroes, Richard Wright had displayed similar literary virtues in his Native Son and several other works like Whiteman Listen, Angelou Maya Had already sang the famous poem I Rise, Harriet Becheter Stowe was already a house-hold name in America and in the entire literary world with her firm stand against racial injustice in the Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

These literary efforts shared the spirit with the then legal and judicial choices of the US Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board (1954); In regard to Education of Topeka that state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students were in opposition to the American constitution. A social theme explored by all those that were hymns to virtue; Henry Louis Gate Junior and others. Similarly, extension in comparison reveals that William Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust explored a similar theme.

What is the connection then between To Kill the Mocking Bird and Go Set a Watchman? The answer to these questions can partially come from Michael Kirke’s review in the Mercator.net that basically there is nothing in To Kill a Mockingbird which tells us that Atticus Finch has actually changed his views by the time in which Watchman is set. His politics was something else and politics did not really enter To Kill a Mockingbird. Go set a Watchman is all about politics and the pertinent question of how best to achieve racial justice through politics.

Thus the excellent thing about this book is that it gives the global audience a way to look at history. It has been sixty years since most of the countries in Africa became independent and said a political goodbye to colonial racism now through Go Set a Watchman we have our blinkers off to see the larger impact that removal of a colour bar is just one small episode in the long effort for truth, justice and democracy. The point we can clearly decipher it pearls and gems by referring to South Africa of today heavily grapples with the social question of Xenophobia.

By way of finishing, it behooves a comment that Go Set a Watch-Man may or may not be a good book. But the balance of probabilities settles at point where this year the Swedish Committee on literature may go back to the drawing board. It is a literary game changer .Go Set a Watchman is not a book which should never have been published as some critics have already said. It is and will remain one of the treasures of global literature. That has stretched forth the rights of the oppressed; from literary texts to politics .It is a gloss to its beautiful prequel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Even if it is watchman set when the African mocking bird of history, language and cultural dignity is already killed in an imperial stampede.

Alexander Khamala Opicho

Lodwar, Kenya


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