Tag Archives: Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

YTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Leees, 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.


November 2015 

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

go-set-a-watchman-harper-leeI must admit that I have not yet read To Kill a Mockingbird.  I saw the movie and the book is on my “to read” list.  But then again, so are a couple thousand other books.  And I realize that movies don’t do books justice, so I will read it.  And now that I have read “Go Set a Watchman”, it has moved higher up on the must get to list.

I’m not sure what I expected with this book, only that it wasn’t what I thought I should have expected.  It was quite slow in getting around to some of the main themes of the book.  Much of the book fills you with the atmosphere, the people, the customs, the history and the unique level of interactions that is distinctly Southern.  Having been raised by a father that was born and bred in a small town in Georgia and spending many years of my childhood surrounded by his family, I became all to familiar with these types of ways.

The central character of the book is Scout or Jean Louise (gotta love the South’s use of double names), daughter of Atticus Finch, who has returned home from her life in New York City.  The story is a slow awakening of the racial bias in all its complexities that existed at the time of de-segregation, and even persist today.  Actually, it goes even further than the racial bias, but also covers the social and gender bias.

The book offers a unique and interesting perspective on the thoughts and culture of America’s South.  A perspective that still holds to a large degree today in many areas, as is evident by the popularity of the rhetoric of many of the politicians emerging from this area.

But, the thing that is unique in this book is the way it is presented to you.  The issue is not just black and white and there are no real “good guys” or real “bad guys”.  They are humans, many of which believe they are acting for the greater good, attempting to preserve what they believe is a way of life they are entitled to.  In fact, many don’t even see their prejudice for what it is.  They see it as watching over “less fortunates”.  And this does not, by any means, excuse bigotry in any way.  It simply gives you a peek inside the heads of many of these people and seeing there are many shades of gray in there.  And as inexcusable their bigotry is, there is also immense decency in them.  The truth is, they are not unlike many other people who truly believe they are doing good when their acts diminish and marginalize others.  People of faith, and most of these are, believe it is their duty to watch over and guide those that don’t share their beliefs, look different, etc.  They hold a class structure that they will often deny.  And a belief that one can only rise so far above one’s origins.  So often through the book was peppered the line, “Love who you want, but marry your own kind.”

And I give Harper Lee credit for also turning the mirror effectively back the other way when she had Scout called a “bigot” and offered the definition, “a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices;especially :  one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance”  For, when we close the doors of communication through failing to hear, to understand, no matter how right our cause, we will doom it to failure.  The world didn’t become the way it is overnight, nor shall it change overnight.  And part of changing it is to understand it with empathy and respect.

It’s a coming of age, a God busting, religion busting, hero busting, blinders shattering journey.  Others refer to it as rough around the edges in comparison to To Kill a Mockingbird, but I think that gives it more power.  Because, the emergence from the shroud of our youth can be a very messy and rough journey.  I don’t know what the criteria is for a Pulitzer for a novel, so I have no idea if this one qualifies.  But, it is an amazing work of writing that makes you at least glance at the world through the eyes of another and shows you nuances and hues you had previously missed.