More on this when I get a chance [update: Malcolm Finch and the Limits of Liberal Fiction] but just want to note that – re: Malcolm Gladwell’s article on To Kill a Mockingbird in the recent New Yorker – the novel is more sociopolitically limited by far than Gladwell conveys. Also the novel is far more than a study of “the limits of Southern liberalism”; the novel had huge New York and national imprint and involvement in its production and creation and further dissemination (the film), as well as having strong current relation (in a variety of ways). The work greatly typifies the limits of liberalism in general. Similarly, Gladwell’s article is a study in the limits of liberalism (north, south, east, or west).
The May 2009 book by James A. Miller – Remembering Scottsboro: The Legacy of an Infamous Trial covers some of this ground. See in particular the Epilogue and “Chapter Eight: Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird: The Final Stage of the Scottsboro Narrative.”
Though Gladwell’s article has some severe limits, it holds more value (a basically liberal article with some limited progressive tendencies, not unlike the novel) than many of its liberal and conservative and reactionary detractors make out. The novel is excessively lauded, like much literature, by ideologies that lead to plenty of off-base, false, and knee-jerk critiques of Gladwell’s article that ironically sort of mirrors the novel. In doing so, the article leaves itself wide open for critique but not of the sort the establishment can much level.