Scout and Atticus are not who they seemed to be.

Back in May, I wrote about the controversy  before Go Set a Watchman, the “new” novel by Harper Lee, was released. Like many others, I was apprehensive about the reasons for publishing it and sad that it might tarnish the reputation of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Those fears were realized in July when the book came out. The book was written before To Kill a Mockingbird.  Some see it as a sequel to Mockingbird because Scout is an adult, but in a way it is a a prequel, or at least a very rough draft of Mockingbird.

This manuscript of cvrGo Set a Watchman was written in the mid-1950s and submitted and rejected by publishers. That seems fully justified. It is not well written and in desperate need of editing and revision.

What an editor did see of worth in it were the few passages about the much younger Jean Louise “Scout” and the her father, Atticus. The editor’s advice was to start over and write that story from the perspective of the innocent and naïve girl writing about a father she idolized.

We know Mockingbird for the trial of Tom Robinson, but a good part of the pleasure in the book are the stories about Scout, her older brother Jem, and their friend Dill and the adventures of their summers. All of that pleasure is gone from Watchman.

About five years after submitting the first manuscript,the rewrite in the form of To Kill a Mockingbird was published (1960).

As a publisher, I’m sure the Rupert Murdoch-owned house Harper Collins was very pleased with the book. Though the reviews were very harsh overall, it sold more than 1.1 million copies in a week’s time, making it the “fastest-selling book in company history.”  It went to the top of the New York Times best-seller list.

I read it. As a teacher who taught Mockingbird for many times and loved it and loved the way students almost always took to it, I had to read it.

It was terrible.

Alexandra Petri in The Washington Post said the book was “not, by any stretch of the imagination, a good, or even a finished book… [T]he writing is laughably bad. … This should not have been published. It’s 280 pages in desperate need of an editor.”

It seemed that for many people who loved TKAM it was not Harper Lee’s reputation that took a pounding but the reputation of Atticus. Ironically, that is pretty much what the book is about. Scout realizes that the father she imagined with his high ideals and fairness was really a segregationist, a racist with many of the same out-of-date beliefs that she wanted to escape when she left the south and went to liberal New York City to live.

The calm, quiet Atticus we knew from the book (who is certainly embodied by the Gregory Peck film version that even more people know) is indeed someone viewed through young and naïve eyes.

If in the 1970s, Harper Lee had published a much revised and edited version of Watchman, I think it might have been a good thing. It actually makes sense that Scout would, after getting older and living in New York City, view her hometown, neighbors and father very differently. And the American reading public and country had also changed.

For me, it would have been better for readers and Harper Lee if the original manuscript had been burned. But maybe I am just being protective of the Atticus and Scout I first knew.

Two months after Harper’s lawyer/caregiver sister died, came the announcement of the new book. Harper Lee, 89, had a stroke 8 years ago and is blind and is in assisted living.

The book’s title – and this post’s title – are from the Bible (Isaiah 21:6) “For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.”  What I see should not have happened if Harper Lee had a watchman like her sister to protect her.

Signing the Mayflower Compact

Signing the Mayflower Compact 1620, a painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, 1899


I watched a few TV programs about the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving this week. The story is different from what I remember being taught in school. Of course, the lessons learning in elementary school full of turkeys and happy Pilgrims and Indians sitting at the table have deeper providence in my brain than some of the “real history” I learned in later years. That first Thanksgiving happened the year after the Pilgrims arrived in the New World.

The Mayflower had set sail from Plymouth, England, on September 16 1620, with just over 100 people aboard. About half of them were religious separatists and were known as Saints or, later, Puritans. They had broken away from the Church of England.

They were navigating to the colony of Virginia where land was set aside for them. The set their course to landfall at the Hudson River in what is now New York. They were blown off course by bad storms and ended up arriving off of Cape Cod instead.

That is a common story for these early arrivals to the New World. I’ve never heard a good explanation for why all these early colonists didn’t take a few week to get provisions and just set sail again for the right place.

Since they were not in the Virginia Colony, they were not bound by their original charter with King James and felt the need to establish a provisional system of government while they waited for a new royal charter from England. The Mayflower Compact was signed in November 1620.

Pilgrim leaders drafted the compact partially to ease tensions between the Puritan Separatists and the other passengers, and they wrote it while they were anchored in Provincetown Harbor.

It was only a 200-word document based loosely on a Puritan church covenant and it created a civil body politic “to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, offices from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony.”

Every adult male passenger had to sign the compact before going ashore.

The compact was the first attempt at forming a democratic government in what would become the United States of America, and it remained in use until the Massachusetts Bay Colony absorbed the Plymouth Colony in 1691.


An autumn version, painted by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe, of the “first” Thanksgiving at Plymouth (1914, Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, Massachusetts)

Our modern Thanksgiving holiday tradition is sometimes traced back to a not-very-well-documented late autumn November 1621 celebration at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts.

A year after their mistaken arrival (they intended to go to Virginia), this feast and thanksgiving was prompted by a first good harvest.

Pilgrims and Puritans began emigrating from England in the 1620s and brought a tradition of Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving with them.

It was “official” when Governor Bradford planned the colony’s thanksgiving celebration and fast in 1623. The practice of holding an annual harvest festival did not become a regular affair in New England until the late 1660s.

Unlike the “first Thanksgiving” that is in many of our brains from school and popular culture,  the one that was first was on February 21, 1621.  A group of the starving Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock were saved by the last-minute arrival of a ship from Dublin bringing food.  Pilgrims in the winter of their first year had no harvest to rely on and faced the end of the their project to colonize the New World.  According to records at the Massachusetts Historical Society, a wife of one of the prominent Plymouth Rock brethren was the daughter of a Dublin merchant and that it was he who chartered a vessel, loaded it with food and sent it to Plymouth.

Thanksgiving observances are common throughout the world. American-style Thanksgiving is currently on the rise in the United Kingdom, with 1 in 6 Britons now celebrating the holiday. In 2014, it was reported that Turkey sales increased by 95% as a result of the rise in popularity of Thanksgiving in Britain.


The First Thanksgiving by JLG Ferris is a more traditional depiction of the holiday’s origin – Library of Congress

This year we will have a Full Moon for Thanksgiving Eve, and we will have a Christmas Day Full Moon. In Paradelle, the Moon will be full tonight at 5:44 pm ET, so it really will be the eve(ning) Moon.

moon Japan

There are many names for this month’s Full Moon, but the idea that I start with here this year is that there are many festivals and celebration this month in Japan and China to honor the gods and goddesses of the kitchen. These celebrations honor those, usually women, who prepare the daily meals.

One such goddess is Okitsu-hime who is associated with fire, providence, kinship and health and is symbolically linked to fire sources used for cooking. She is the Shinto Goddess of kitchens in Japan and watches over all foods prepared and over family interactions to keep health and emotional warmth in the home.

With Thanksgiving, we also honor similar themes and, hopefully, those who provide and prepare our food.

Cleaning the stove, toaster, oven, and microwave is practical, but is also seen as symbolically removing sickness and negativity. Preparing the foods draws the kitchen goddess to your kitchen.

In many places around the world, the harvest is past and early winter is appearing. In Tibet, they celebrate the Feast of Lanterns which is  a winter festival connected to the shortening days. I prefer not to think of this time as the Incas did as Ayamarca, or Festival of the Dead.

I collect Full Moon names and this month offers All Gathered Moon, Initiate Moon, Fog Moon, Mourning Moon, Blotmonath (Sacrifice Month), Herbistmonoth (Harvest Month), Mad Moon, and Moon of Storms.

I have a fondness for the American Indian names which are always connected to nature and sound lyrical in our English translations, such as The Moon When Deer Shed Antlers or Moon When Horns Are Broken Off (Dakotah Sioux ).

In Celtic tradition, this the Dark Moon, and Frost Moon and Snow Moon were both used in Medieval Britain.

I like the Choctaw name of Sassafras Moon for this month. The leaves and pith of the sassafras tree (native to Eastern North America) is used dried and powdered as a thickener in soups. The roots often are dried and steeped for sassafras tea that I enjoy. I recall as a child, the taste of sassafras as a flavoring in root beer. The oil of sassafras (safrole) comes from the roots and the root bark and is very pleasant tasting and scented.


Beaver Moon is probably the most common nickname used in America. It probably came from American Indians and was carried over to the colonists as the time to set beaver traps before the swamps froze, to ensure a supply of warm winter furs.

If you’re not a fan of hunting and trapping, you can go with another origin story which is that the Full Beaver Moon comes from the fact that the beavers are now actively preparing for winter.

Matisse - Fruit and Coffeepot

Henri Matisse – Fruit and Coffeepot (1898)

Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.
She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
Encroachment of that old catastrophe,
As a calm darkens among water-lights.

It’s was clear enough this past week for me to have had the chance of seeing some of the meteors known as the Leonid meteor shower. I went outside and stared up into the deep, dark sky. But I didn’t see any shooting stars or fireballs.

Something I did see this past week was an article that noted that the poem “Sunday Morning” is 100 years old. That really surprised me. It shouldn’t surprise me, because Wallace Stevens was writing in the early 1900s.

Sunday Morning” starts out pretty nice (as shown at the top of this post) with coffee and oranges, a woman in a negligee and a cockatoo hopping on the rug.  But Stevens isn’t really known for lightness.

I first read the poem in a college class and we dissected it. It is a serious poetic meditation, a philosophical poem about what might happen to us when we die.

The “pungent oranges and bright, green wings” very quickly transform into:
…things in some procession of the dead,
Winding across wide water, without sound.
The day is like wide water, without sound,
Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet
Over the seas, to silent Palestine,
Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.

When “Sunday Morning” was published in 1915 in Poetry magazine, the Modernist movement was the thing. T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” also was published that year.

So, on this Sunday morning, why am I connecting this poem and a night sky?

When I was staring up at the sky the other night, I was pulled into thoughts about old age and death. I don’t know that gazing into the universe at night causes those kinds of feeling for everyone, but eternity and the impossibility of it really do fit together.

I find that sometimes I have to fight moving from a happy moment of coffee and oranges to a sad one . They also fit together sometimes too. Something is so good that you start thinking about it being gone.

That night sky does make me think about eternity. It is the only thing I can see that comes close to being eternity.

Eliot’s Prufrock wonders

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time

For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.

Do I dare even stare into that universe that reverses our decisions and revisions so easily?

What about an afterlife?

Stevens writes:

Is there no change of death in paradise?
Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
Hang always heavy in that perfect sky,
Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth,
With rivers like our own that seek for seas
They never find, the same receding shores
That never touch with inarticulate pang?

I don’t find any comfort in the concept of an afterlife. I suppose that means I lack faith.  I never did believe, or perhaps I was afraid to believe. Even as a child, I found an afterlife frightening. It scared me that people who died were somewhere watching us.

Maybe I’m just feeling age building up in inside me.  I grow old. I already wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

More likely, I am feeling more in love with life and with those people I love. I don’t want them shooting off into space or eternity. I want them here.

It is a sunny, autumn Sunday morning after the terror attacks in Paris. I don’t have any oranges in the house, but I was just having coffee with my wife in her peignoir and I need to hold onto this morning well into evening and the night.

And, in the isolation of the sky,
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambiguous undulations as they sink,
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.

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