Don’t Go There

It seems like whatever Malcolm Gladwell writes about these days, there's an army of experts in that subject lying in wait to bump him up a bit for mismanaging their profession. I'm not saying it's necessarily wrong, just that that's how it is.

So, now that Gladwell has jumped in to Harper Lee's classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird (although I don't think this is his first venture into lit crit), Garth Risk Hallberg is appropriately up in arms:

A more nuanced article might have made the argument that To Kill a Mockingbird has a didactic streak, and that it puts Atticus Finch forward as an allegorical figure of enlightenment. Or that readers of the book have mistakenly read him allegorically, rather than as a human being with human limitations. Or that To Kill a Mockingbird is not a very good book, and is racist to boot. Indeed, the latter may have been Gladwell's reaction on taking up the book again in 2009.

But he hasn't chosen to make any of those arguments. And so his triumphant conclusion – "A book that we thought instructed us about the world tells us, instead, about the limitations of Jim Crow liberalism" – rankles. No, we want to say, it tells Malcolm Gladwell about Jim Crow liberalism. Slighting the novel's achievement on account of its anachronisms is like dismissing Huckleberry Finn because of the ways Twain caricatures Jim. There are good reasons why these books are on the most-banned list; that they record liberal blind-spots is not among them.

Moreover, Gladwell's thinly veiled hostility toward To Kill a Mockingbird betrays a fundamental misapprehension about the novel, as distinct from the satire or the polemic . . .



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