To Kill a Mockingbird and The Name of the Rose are apparently two very different novels. Nonetheless, they share a layered structure, managed through the first-person observation of a very young onlooker who incidentally becomes the protagonist of a coming-of-age novel.
Scout and Adso are witnesses of the talent, moral integrity and yet ultimately also of the defeat of their mentors: Atticus and William of Baskerville are intellectual figures characterized by an undercurrent of tension in their relationship with society. They are painfully aware of the dangers of using reason against the dogmatism of the dominant culture, be it racial segregation or the fury of the Inquisition.
To Kill a Mockingbird is clearly a courageous novel for the challenge of its topic, in the historical moment of its publication – but in its own way The Name of the Rose is brave in claiming the dignity of genre literature (murder mystery, in this case) and portraying the difference between a quest for truth and the hunt for a culprit (two very different things).
Much has been said about the levels of interpretation in Eco’s works, much less about how a similar structure is also present in Harper Lee’s masterpiece. During the course of the novel along with Scout’s education, we follow the unraveling of a court case, the stark portrayal of widespread injustice and prejudice, and also the real story of Boo Radley, the character who inspired the title of the book.
Despite the apparent failure of both Atticus and William in the end of the novels, their example remains powerful. Their experiences and failures lead to understanding and growth: stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus.