Saturday marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. The novel was widely beloved, in part, for the character of Atticus Finch. As a lawyer defending a falsely accused Black man, Finch fit neatly into the narrative of a white savior enacting racial justice. Lee’s second book, Go Set a Watchman, controversially published in 2015, revealed the depths of Finch’s racism and further unsettled the already-fraught hero worship of the character and the author.
To Kill a Mockingbird is far from the only classic whose legacy readers must grapple with. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books are marked by problematic depictions of Native and Black characters. The Hardy Boys series was revised after its publication to remove racist content. In the realm of science fiction and fantasy, H. P. Lovecraft’s xenophobic beliefs have repulsed many writers: In 2016, the World Fantasy Awards stopped using Lovecraft’s image for its trophies.
Books that revisit stories excluded from the literary canon can provide a kind of corrective. The Silence of the Girls, which reimagines The Iliad through the perspective of Briseis, a princess taken as a slave by Achilles, tells just one story that history overlooked. Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon, which is based on interviews with the last living survivor of the transatlantic slave trade, tells another.
Every Friday in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas.
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