Eager to join the literary revisionism plaguing Harper Lee’s classic novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” in its 50th anniversary year, Eric Herschthal (“Did Harper Lee Whitewash the Jewish Past?” July 16) misinterprets two of the book’s passages as contrasting the South’s acceptance of its Jews with its persecution of blacks.
Nowhere does the narrative refer to local merchant Sam Levy as a Jew. His name demonstrates Jewish ancestry, which is presumably why the local Klan, when it “couldn’t find anybody to scare,” had marched in front of his house. But it’s hard to imagine a lone Jewish family remaining identifiably Jewish over the course of five generations in a rural Alabama town.
The discussion in Scout’s third-grade class of Hitler’s persecution of German Jews reinforces that point. Both the children and their teacher relate to Jews as an abstraction, not as people they know.
The quest to understand and sympathize with all people, one of the book’s enduring themes, is the real reason for recent criticism of its central character, Atticus Finch. Many fictional heroes demonstrate courage in standing up for principles. What sets Finch apart is his ability to demonstrate that courage without demonizing those who disagree. Recent disparagement of him, alas, says less about his character than about contemporary society’s inability to emulate him.
Forest Hills, Queens