"I heard that Atticus is racist now," said my well-meaning friend when Harper Lee's new novel came up as a topic of discussion.
I, like many others, have approached the work with hesitation. Lee was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her first novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird," a work that practically transcends the realm of mortality.
How could anything else compare?
Indeed, who does not admire the gentle courage of wise Atticus, or laugh at the feisty independence of young Scout? These characters are heroes of literature, ingrained in our very core, inspiring us to think a little differently and be a little better.
In this latest installment Lee takes us back to the world of Maycomb, Alabama, 20 years later. Much has changed for the Finch family: Jean Louise is now a grown woman living in New York; Jem has passed away from the same heart condition that took the children's mother; and Maycomb is right in the tension of the civil rights movement.
The novel begins with Jean Louis traveling to her hometown to visit her aging father. One day she stumbles across a pamphlet on her father's table, titled "The Black Plague." Concerned, she takes a trip into town where she observes a gathering of white men — of which her father is a part — speaking in racially charged terms of the growing threat the Negroes pose. Jean Louis is horrified and spends the rest of the novel trying to cope with her emotions.
Although her father tries to explain that his main reason for being there was more to advocate for freedom from government imposition, Jean Louis does not listen. She packs her bags ready to leave Maycomb — and her family — behind for good.
Haven't we all been there? The Thanksgiving dinner when Dad starts discussing politics and you realize you hold a different opinion; the time when your brother should have stood up for his beliefs instead of sitting quietly in the background; the rude comment your sister made about a family friend.
What do you do when your heroes no longer seem heroic?
In the novel, Jean Louis is fortunate to have an uncle who helps her see that she had become so morally independent on her father that in order to progress she had to become her own person. Eventually she forgives her father and allows him to descend from his high altar and assume the role of man.
Disillusionment, rejection, grief; these are difficult emotions to handle, especially when they are caused by a beloved family member. Following Scout's pattern can help us move forward:
1. Take time to cope
In the novel, Scout takes time to understand her emotions; we can do the same. It is never healthy to "put on a face" or try to feel something you don't. Give yourself time to heal.
2. Find someone safe to talk to
Scout has her uncle to help her make sense of the situation. Finding someone we trust to listen to us as we vocalize our feelings and offer advice is extremely helpful.
3. Put your feelings onto paper
In the heat of the moment when tempers are high, thinking rationally takes a back seat. Writing helps you take time to calm down and release your feelings in a positive way.
4. Talk to whomever it is you are upset with
Sometimes issues blow over by themselves, but usually communication is essential in repairing relationship rifts. Scout wanted to leave Maycomb before she even spoke with her father and had a chance to understand his point of view. It may be intimidating approaching the person, but it will save you the heartache of misunderstandings.