By Charles Opara
THE CONTROVERSIAL SECOND PART
If you missed Part 1, Click To Read.
Sometimes trying to write a downright honest story, one devoid of pretensions, can leave bad tastes in some people’s mouths. This may lie in the fact that one character has a belief (a personal viewpoint) that divides opinions. Even worse, the story may not be about this character undergoing a change (in his thinking). And so it minifies, or even detracts, from the message in the story.
When I think of Harper Lee’s second novel and the reaction it got, I wonder if she had had a similar experience. Who knows why it took her so long to publish her second book. Who knows if Atticus Finch had been portrayed the way she later portrayed him in Go Set a Watchman in the original manuscript of To Kill a Mocking Bird, but then she had been asked to rewrite those parts because it wasn’t ‘marketable’. Who knows? Her publishers may have thought the world wasn’t ready for her kind of honesty. And they were probably right too.
Some writers, even though they should, do not care about book sales, not like publishers do, definitely not; they just want to write about the world they know as honestly as they can and hope their story finds a home.
I wonder about Harper Lee because her follow-up novel, Go Set a Watchman, which came decades later, shocked many with its less-than-exemplary portrayal of Atticus. If it’s true she had compromised, then the lesson we can all take from that is this: until you can call the shots, play ball. (Already a household name by the time Go Set a Watchman was due for release, she must have been calling the shots with her second novel: “Leave it like that or I’ll go to another publisher.”)
I’ve thought about writing a story that argues that everyone stereotypes in some ways, that racist and chauvinistic remarks, which are socially unacceptable, are just natural progressions of the pretty normal and seemingly harmless behaviour of stereotyping. It’ll be a story that’ll try to make you see racism as a spillover of the milder, less derogatory forms of stereotyping (labelling, profiling or whatever name you might give it), which we are all guilty of in some ways. But I don’t think that story will go down well with a lot of people because it points an accusing finger at all of us; it paints us all as latently racist or chauvinistic in our unguarded utterances. The inspiration behind this idea was the U.S. president, Donald Trump, (during his presidential race). I find him a fascinating character.
Stereotyping is a cultural thing (I dare say, a natural thing, unless you are incredibly disciplined in your thoughts, words, and actions and live on a different planet). As long as we can see differences in each other we will always find ways of expressing it (Writers know what I’m talking about. Think of where we get some of the metaphors we use). If we as a people are stereotyped, and we don’t like the tag, our best bet to put a stop to it is to change impressions starting with ourselves, and then see how we can translate that to our affiliations: sex, race, disability, political and others. But in the end, that would only lead to a more favourable stereotype. It will not end stereotyping completely. This writer believes you can’t eradicate stereotyping completely. That would be like heaven on earth. The most we can do to end some of the impolite and derogatory terms we use is to teach our children that it is wrong to say them (and hope their friends don’t influence them).
In our fiction, we’re advised to take our characters beyond the stereotype. But I’ll tell you this: nothing is as real as a character who stereotypes others, or speaks with a lot of stereotypes, or shows his prejudices in some ways. We come across them in our lives. We even see them in the mirror. I think an honest portrayal of these kinds of characters, especially those prone to racial prejudices, would make unpleasant reading for many of us. It would touch on emotive subjects and strike a few nerves. Why, the writer might even be viewed as irresponsible/insensitive. But it shouldn’t be so.
The Ideas Represented In This Article are Purely Charles Opara’s