With the publication of Harper Lee’s new (old) book “Go Set a Watchman,” the news that the heroic character of her previous and wildly popular novel actually didn’t mean all that equality stuff is jolting.
Atticus Finch was a man ahead of his time, and when the Pulitzer-winning “To Kill a Mockingbird” came out in 1960, it caused many Americans to start rethinking racial bigotry in America. The new book has caused me to consider the notion that a protagonist famous for one point of view could be altered, in a subsequent book, to take an entirely different point of view. Here are a few possibilities:
“Moby Dick: Throw Him Back,” by Herman Melville. Captain Ahab finds his pursuit of the Great White Whale boring. “I’m not that obsessed with a freaking fish, OK? Actually, it’s a bus-sized mammal that eats phytoplankton and krill. Who cares? I have better things to do.”
“The Scarlet Letter: What’s the Big Deal?” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hester Prynne has an affair but isn’t shunned. “It was fun. Who cares? Who’s the most popular ex-president? Bill Clinton. Plus, I like the accent color on my frock.”
“1984, But Who’s Counting?” by George Orwell. Winston Smith decides he actually likes Big Brother’s company. “I grew up without a brother, and I get lonely sometimes now. It’s nice to know someone is interested in my welfare. What can I say? I like being watched.”
“The Catcher in the Rye, Part Two” by J.D. Salinger. Holden Caulfield is perfectly OK with authority. He discovers that he enjoys being an adolescent and has no odd or unusual feelings about anything. “I’m chill. Whatev’. It’s just a part of growing up.”
“Off the Road” by Jack Kerouac. Dean Moriarty rejects the Beat Generation ethos, stops driving in search of existential meaning (“It wastes gas, dig?”), and joins IBM as a sales trainee. “They have a good dental plan, and I was feeling like I was just drifting. Check out my new blue suit and white button-down!”
“Lolita – NOT” by Vladimir Nabokov. Humbert Humbert finds his old interests revolting and falls in love with a slightly overweight 41-year-old woman who works in the financial services industry.
“Siddhartha Reconsidered” by Hermann Hesse. Siddhartha finds that enlightenment and perfect consciousness are all very well and good, but that he can achieve even more enlightenment by developing an app for spiritual growth. He makes even more money, which leads to a deal for a reality TV show.
“The Greater Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Jay Gatsby bags the Roaring ’20s party lifestyle and moves into a coldwater flat in Brooklyn. “It’s closer to the city, and I can take the subway into the Christian Science Reading Room, where I spend most of my time. And I can get to Goodwill to dump all these stupid, expensive clothes.”
“Gone With the Wind and Gov. Nicki Haley Just Called” by Margaret Mitchell. Scarlett O’Hara tells Rhett Butler that his Confederate battle flag must come down at the end of the war, and that revolution against his own government should not be celebrated. Rhett says that he, in fact, does a give a damn about the feelings of African Americans and agrees.
“The U.S. Department of Fountainheads” by Ayn Rand. Howard Roark finds that, in fact, the U.S. economy functions much better under a series of government regulatory agencies, and that a boom-and-bust era of unfettered speculation led to the closing of his architecture firm and a long recession. “I’m all in for Sanders.”