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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Will Harper Lee’s New Novel Overshadow Her First Book?

Pulitzer Prize winner and "To Kill A Mockingbird" author Harper Lee smiles before receiving the 2007 Presidential Medal of Freedom. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Pulitzer Prize winner and “To Kill a Mockingbird” author Harper Lee smiles before receiving the 2007 Presidential Medal of Freedom. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Its been half a century since the release of the literary masterpiece “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Yesterday when news hit the web you could hear squeals of delight around the world about her highly anticipated new novel, “Go Set a Watchman,” due out in July.

Here and Now‘s Robin Young speaks with James Applewhite, a professor emeritus of English at Duke University and a poet and essayist who has published many critical essays on southern literature, about the woman behind a “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Interview Highlights

On what makes “To Kill a Mockingbird” so great
“Well, the book as it exists, and seen from a child’s point of view has many advantages. The freshness, the innocence of the child, the initiation into horrors that is part of history, part of the racism that is still alive and well in this town.

It is more poignant from a child’s point of view, and I can’t imagine it being better seen from the the adult prospective and yet the adult proscriptive could give us a broader sense of the ramifications in her later life of how this childhood is played out.”

If the sequel would lessen the first book
“Well that is a problem. But it can’t possibly be as good if it is not that immediacy of the child’s prospective but time is a mysterious thing and the south has had a difficulty dealing with time. I think of it as having an Oedipal relationship to its own past in that the past is tending to overhaul the present. At least in the 20th century and of course the 19th century.

Think of Big Momma and Big Daddy in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” these figures who momentarily overshadow and proceed their children and make their lives less viable. So to see Scout as an adult interacting with her father, that inevitably has to add to the dimensionality of the earlier work because after all we want to hear about adult lives as well as child lives.”


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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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