Yes, I know. Most people read this when they were in high school. To be honest, I don’t remember what the book was we read in high school. That is probably because I blasted through about a couple hundred books a year. But, I know that To Kill a Mockingbird was not one of them. I did see the movie, as I said in my review of Go Set a Watchman.
So, I should start with that. Its not that the movie didn’t bear any resemblance to the book. It was actually quite accurate. At least as far as the portion they took the scalpel to in order to remove what they wanted. But, the movie starts with the kids in front of the court house with Atticus. That was more than 9 chapters into the book.
I understand why this book got the high reviews and praise that it did. It is haunting and picturesque and a delight to the senses. Admittedly, I think the fact that I listened to it on Audio added to that, as Sissy Spacek was the reader for it. I don’t believe they could have found a more perfect choice of reader for Harper Lee’s book than Sissy.
To Kill a Mockingbird has been on the Banned Book list for a laundry list of reasons since it was first published, including that it was published under protest of the publisher because of the content. The reality is that with the negative comments about blacks, including the word nigger, you also have the white trash elements, the class division that existed/probably still exists in the South. The book speaks as its characters would have, thinks as they would have, behaves as they would have. You cannot take an eraser to the words you don’t like and pretend that they were never used. That the good an upstanding citizens of the south did not use them. They did. And the bigotry in the book is as real as the words that depict it. As are the complexities of many of the characters.
And I think that is the genius of the book. She shows you the humanness of all of the characters, even the most vile of them. She gives them history and a voice. You can still hate many of their words, their actions, but its tempered with a taste of understanding as well. For Harper places their shoes upon your feet and sends you for a walk along their path.
The book is far more about the Fitch family, the children, Scout and Jem, their father Atticus, and their aunt Alexandra. Its about growing up in a small town and full of memories many of us can relate to such as treasure finding, daring each other into scary places, and trying to understand the world of the grownups. Its full of family secrets both win their family as well as whispered secrets about their neighbors.
The section carved out for the movie is but a sampling of what the book is about. It is more to show the reality of the times, and what the law held for a black man accused in that time frame of a charge of rape. It also shows how a small town, through this case, begins to have a struggle of conscience as it is growing and beginning to move beyond some of the prejudices. For just as hate and prejudice don’t emerge overnight, they also do not go away overnight. And that is one of the shining lights of the book. To see how the community begins to mature and take a few more baby steps to being a bit more enlightened.
I hope we never see the banning of books such as this. They are a slipping back into time, where many things were much simpler, where people took the time to swim in a creek and believe in ghosts in the neighbor house. That the people often acted only as they had been taught how. And even the darker things such as rape and the treatment of blacks, it offers a treatise on how far we have come. We should never erase or forget the words of our past. For if we do, we are doomed to repeat them.
I don’t know that I agree in having To Kill a Mockingbird as a student requited reading. I don’t think the young people will understand it the way that it should be understood. Or if they are, they should be given it in a way that they are given the history and lessons of the book in a way for them to truly experience what it meant to live in that time, that place. In a way that it is more than just words on paper.
Harper Lee has recreated life in the south in a way that only someone from there can. If you are like me and have never read it, do yourself a favor and change that. Read it, breath it, then close your eyes and dream it.