As I said before I did not read To Kill a Mockingbird like the good students did. I wrote my report in high school by watching the Academy Award winning 1962 film adaptation. The details of the story have been fuzzy and essentially summarized in my head as a emotionally moving work of fiction that gave people a lot of good feelings.  All the details that I could recall were that it was about civil rights, race, a trial, and a girl who was called scout who had father named Atticus. Beyond Scout and Atticus the name that remained with me the most was Boo Radley. I had it in my head that Boo was the black man placed on trial, I got that wrong obviously but was pleased with the role that Boo/Arthur played in the end

The first part of the book was incredibly enjoyable to read, a life in the south during the great depression through the eyes of a young rascally girl who see things as they are.  Lee’s prose and southern dialogue was captivating and amusing as she interjected ideas of raising children,[1] the misuse of religion (speaking of “foot-washing Baptists”),[2] majority rule vs. personal conscience,[3] and real courage[4] shown to Scout and Jem through a dying woman weening herself from a long term opiate addiction just because she wanted to die not” beholden to nothing or nobody.”

Those are the kind of teachings that I hope my own kids will absorb from me and other examples in their lives. It made me feel nostalgic for small town America, polite neighbors, and innocence.

The second part begins with Scout and Jem visiting Calpurnia’s Black congregation. In general they are welcomed in and have a unique experience by visiting a neighbor culture parallel but peculiar to their own. Scout notices a common thread in all clergymen’s preaching, which is that they are universally concerned with the “Impurity of Women” doctrine.[5] How does a young girl navigate a world that is constantly telling them that they are merely a comfort or a temptation for the real actors in society, men.  Sadly, I don’t think this aspect of culture has changed too much since the 1930’s. Women are certainly able to overcome it more than before but men don’t have any of these same cultural barriers to overcome to begin with.

I was frequently frustrated that Lee’s incisive remarks on society are still quite poignant and applicable 60 years later.

The trial scene was emotionally thrilling but in the end disturbing. The case was as clear as day and acquittal was the only just choice any jury could make. Yet the tight knit culture and small town honor mixed with racial prejudice sent an innocent father to prison (eventually to face the death penalty). The horror of it drove him to try to escape the pen he was forced into, with only one arm frantically pulling his body over the fence. 17 bullets from the guns of prison guards stopped him and ended his story right then and there. This was no Disney movie, it was an inexorable tragedy predetermined to occur in one form or another simply for the defense of white supremacy. Not justice. Not law. But unfounded fear.

Obviously this is a work of fiction but we all know that it came from reality. This isn’t some fantasy story made from thin air this was real life spun into a compelling tale. It hurts that this is the way we are. It makes me angry and sad. The innocence of Jem and Scout slowly gets taken from them as the reality of the world sets in. They start to realize how awful things really are by watching their daddy do his best to hold up the law and  protect the severely underprivileged while the comfortable class (whites) assail the poor devil in the name of keeping face and maintaining the sacred status quo.

Much could be said analyzing this book, and surely has by others, but I think the way it makes you feel is the most important. Reflective, angry, sentimental, sad, satisfied from an aesthetic point of view, and dissatisfied from a social point of view.


Notes:

[1] p. (99) Parenting advice from Atticus:

“-she asked me what a whore-lady was.”
“Did you tell her?”
“No I told her about Lord Melbourne.”
“Jack! When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness’ sake. But don’t make a production of it. Children are children, but they can spot an evasion quicker than adults, and evasion simply muddles ’em.”

[2] p. (50) Miss Maudie talking about the neighbors:

“You are too young to understand it,” she said, but sometimes the bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of [another] … There are just some kind of men who-who’r so busy worrying about the next world they never learned to live in this one.”

[3] p. (120) Atticus and Scout arguing over whether he should help tom Robinson:

“Atticus, you must be wrong…”
“How’s that?”
“Well,most folks seem to think they’re right and you’re wrong…”
“They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions,” said Atticus, “but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

[4] p. (128) Atticus telling Jem why he had him read to the dying Mrs. Dubose:

“-I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. … she dies beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew.”

[5] p. (138) Scout reflecting on the many sermons she has heard and the won she just listened to:

“His sermon was a forthright denunciation of sin, an austere declaration of the motto on the wall behind him: he warned his flock against the evils of heady brews, gambling, and strange women. Bootleggers caused enough trouble in the Quarters, but women were worse. Again, as I had often met it in my own church, I was confronted with the Impurity of Women doctrine that seemed to preoccupy all clergymen.”

 

 

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3 thoughts on “To Kill a Mocking Bird

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