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When I learned that Harper Lee’s second novel is to be published, the first thought that came to my mind was: Will it be as biased against the white poor as To Kill a Mockingbird?

Like millions of other American schoolchildren, I was forced in public elementary school to endure a reading of this best-selling, Pulitzer Prize-winning classic of American literature, as though being traumatized by Charlotte’s Web in an earlier grade had not been punishment enough. My classmates and I were too young to understand what was going on and I thought the novel was tedious, confusing and creepy.

As an adult, I read the novel and watched the celebrated movie and found myself appalled for a different reason. A member, on one side of my family, of the Southern white gentry class to which Harper Lee belongs, I recognized that she was providing, in Atticus Finch, an absurdly idealized version of that class, in a melodrama that combines uplifting anti-racist sentiment with the most snobbish kind of “classism.” Unlike truly great 20th-century white Southern writers, like William Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren, Tennessee Williams and Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee was unable to transcend the class biases of the Southern gentry. Black Americans who object to the novel and movie for infantilizing blacks have a point — but it must be added that the book and film do so, by demonizing poor whites.
More… “White Trash Gothic”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.

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