To Kill A Mockingbird

It has been said that everyone has a book inside them. I’m not sure who said it, and I don’t know if it is all that true, though I have always felt it to be so for me. Of course we live in a world now where lots of folks want to be famous, and even more want to be rich, and therefore they are always looking for ways to make that happen. I suppose writing a book is just as good of an option as any, and maybe even better than most (for example doing “reality TV” or making a sex tape). However, there are a couple of perils. First of all, our bookstores become polluted with crap that it is difficult to believe was ever published in the first place (much like the plethora of asinine television shows & movies that should have never been greenlighted). Secondly, authors who achieve success right out of the gate are encouraged to write more, oftentimes with specious results. Sometimes it really is better to quit while you are ahead.

 

In the annals of one hit wonders I think most folks would agree that author Harper Lee ranks right up there with Soft Cell, Mark Hamill, John Adams, and Dexys Midnight Runners. I am tempted to say that it is a shame that she only wrote one novel, but when that one novel is the Pulitzer Prize winning To Kill A Mockingbird then there is really nothing left to prove and nowhere to go but downhill.

 

Though they really aren’t all that similar it occurs to me that Mockingbird and the previous novel we examined…Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine…have a few things in common. They both take place in the same general era…Mockingbird in the mid-1930’s in the midst of The Great Depression, Dandelion Wine in 1928 just before the Depression. Both are set in a sleepy small town, the kind that we wax nostalgic about in 21st century America. And both have children as the main protagonists, allowing the story to be told thru the eyes of a child and therefore necessitating an accessible writing style without sacrificing literary elegance. But the comparisons end there.

 

To Kill A Mockingbird is an unflinching look at racism in the early 20th century, and though it is at times uncomfortable (especially when observed thru the politically correct prism that has almost become the standard in modern times) there is such an easygoing innocence from the point-of-view of the narrator that the rough edges seem much more palatable.

 

The story is about the Finch family in Maycomb, Alabama. There is the narrator…9 year old Jean Louise, nicknamed Scout…her older brother Jem…and their widowed father Atticus, a wise, even-tempered lawyer with a strong sense of morality. Scout & Jem spend their days in school and their evenings & summertime playing and hanging out with a neighbor boy named Dill. Scout, Jem, & Dill become obsessed with a reclusive neighbor named Boo Radley who for many years has been the subject of rumors painting him as some kind of freaky monster and hasn’t been seen by anyone since he was a teenager. Meanwhile, Atticus takes on the case of Tom Robinson, a poor black man accused of raping his white female neighbor Mayella Ewell. Robinson’s trial is a major event in Maycomb, and it exposes the children to the racist outlook of a town that they had heretofore only known to be filled with friendly neighbors & schoolmates. Eventually the two storylines intersect, although if you want to know how you’ll just have to read the book.

 

To Kill A Mockingbird is an important book. I wouldn’t hesitate to place it in the mix with The Constitution, The Declaration of Independence, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the works of Shakespeare & Dickens, and The Holy Bible as one of the most significant things ever written. That will sound like hyperbole only to those who have not had the pleasure of reading it. It embodies a time, a place, and an attitude that we still haven’t completely laid to rest. Yes we have made remarkable strides, but we cannot truthfully say that racism no longer exists. They may be fewer in number, but there are still people with an “us and them” outlook. The difference between now & then is that we are fully aware that it is wrong. To a certain extent the racism in Mockingbird is portrayed in such a matter-of-fact way that we can conclude that many folks back then didn’t realize how wrong they were. It was the way it was. There was a hierarchy and everyone had their place and played their proper role in society. Even the ethical hero of the book Atticus Finch employs a black housekeeper, something that we see today as a racial stereotype. When reading a story like this we are forced to confront our own views and one wonders how various people have been impacted as society has evolved over the past few decades.

 

I would be remiss if I did not mention the fantastic 1962 film based on the book and starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. Like most movies based on books there are some minor characters left out and substantial subplots that are shortchanged or eliminated, but overall it is a faithful adaptation and quality production.  As usual in these cases I strongly caution against skipping the book in favor of just watching the movie. The book is an almost breezy read, which is surprising given its gravitas. If you haven’t read it you really should. God knows it’s better than watching The Bachelor or anything starring a Kardashian.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s