"In all great novels there is some quality of moral ambiguity, some potentially controversial element that keeps the book from being easily grasped or explained," Allen Barra said in The Wall Street Journal last month. Does Mockingbird lack these vital elements? Others, like Barra, question the timelessness of Harper Lee's "classic" that depicts the rape and racial inequality in an unjust Alabama of the past. With one of their favorite books under attack on its golden anniversary, some columnists and bloggers around the world are offering their best defenses for what makes the novel resonate even inside a new era:
"Morality in literature is not very fashionable today -- too many complexities, too many shades of grey, a sense we have argued it all out long ago -- but there is something about Mockingbird that still rouses fresh and horrified indignation. It is a great book about courage, and how it is not always what we think it is, and not always found where we expect."
"What I thought, when I went back and read those passages again, there was this absence of piety, which I think makes the book really honest. There was self-doubt. Atticus knew that he wasn't a perfect man. He tried as best he could to give Scout the big context of what he was doing and why he was doing it. In her youthful innocence, she was asking all the right questions. So it's no wonder to me why it's so popular as a book and it will be for a long time."
"Few contemporary literary American novels have such a sweep and fewer have the confidence to take on social issues in the way Harper Lee does. Much literary writing today about racism is cloaked in irony or in so much lyricism that it becomes gaseous. Lee refuses to hide behind aesthetics. Her writing is so beautiful, so steady and even and limpid, that she might have evaded confronting these tribalisms head-on, but she doesn't."
"Many of those who feel most passionately about the book left their last classrooms long ago. Perhaps is it not in English class where this book lives but in our hearts and minds. Here we hold Atticus and Boo and Scout, alongside the idea of certain justice done in a familiar place, and done well. This is where we hold a uniquely American sense of ourselves in America and as Americans. This is not a place that necessarily cares for nuance, but it is a place that demands a hero."