Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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Symbols of Race in To Kill a Mockingbird

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Harper Lee’s Maycomb county bears out many of the stereotypes commonly attributed to the south and southerners regarding race relations. In the midst of portraying negative attitudes and prejudices, however, a truer face of the south shines through in the actions of the Finch family. Lee skillfully balances Atticus and his children with symbols of life in a “typical” southern town to draw a sharp distinction between those who would live the life they are told to live and those whose consideration of the world around them make their lives richer and more meaningful.

One of the most profound pure symbols of race relations in the novel revolves around Jem and Scout’s snowman. For instance, the building of a snowman by Jem and Scout one winter is very symbolic. Since Alabama winters don’t produce enough snow to allow them to build a snowman entirely out of snow, Jem makes a foundation out of mud, covering it with the snow the children could scrape together. Clearly, one implication of this act is a “covering up” of the Black man by making him Whiter, more “pure.” Jem is far too innocent for such an interpretation, but the world around him could provide a subtle influence.

More likely, this act is symbolic of a blending of the “clean” snow and the “dirty” mud, both of which are natural substances, showing how similar humans are. The substance created by the mixing is different than, although not necessarily better or worse than, either mud or snow. Atticus approves of his son’s ingenuity as he says, “I didn't know how you were going to do it, but from now on I'll never worry about what'll become of you, son, you'll always have an idea." It is the idea, after all, the act of thinking, that separates intelligence from prejudice.

The snowman changes yet again as Miss Maudie Atkinson's house burns to the ground, melting the snow and leaving nothing but a clump of mud. Is Lee reflecting the townspeople’s view that Blacks and Whites are indeed not the same, or is she evoking the old adage, “United we stand, divided we fall?” At least the snowman had a short life as a mixed “creature,” enjoying the best of both worlds. In a sense, the snowman is like a mixed-race child who inherits the good qualities of his White and Black parent, but who is scorned by a society that blames him for his parents’ choices.

Jem’s reaction to Mrs. Dubose is another case in point. Her insults, which include, "Your father's no better than the niggers and trash he works for!" presume to show us her own views and those of the rest of Maycomb County’s residents. Later on the day of the outburst, Jem takes Scout's baton and "runs flailing wildly up the steps into Mrs. Dubose's front yard. . . . He did not begin to calm down until he had cut the tops off every camellia bush Mrs. Dubose owned."

Jem’s destruction of the white flowers symbolizes an internal backlash against the prejudice he has so recently witnessed. His subsequent care of the damaged plants (which Atticus demands, along with regular reading to Mrs. Dubose) demonstrates his learning the lesson of tolerance and of standing up to the negativity of his world. The children’s visits to Mrs. Dubose begin their unconscious but very real project of attempting to change attitudes in Maycomb county.

But attitudes are not so easily changed if they are heavily ingrained. Maycomb County is a depiction of the “Old South” where Blacks are still barely citizens, and where fear and suspicion reign over understanding and respect. When Tom Robinson is arrested for raping a White woman, the townspeople immediately assumed that he is guilty. Lynching parties are formed, and “ordinary” men (i.e. not wearing Ku Klux Klan robes) let anger and fear empower them.

The same anger and fear are turned toward Atticus and even his children for the simple act of defending an unfairly accused man. Tom goes from being a respectable handy man to a monster simply because a White woman accuses him of a crime with no evidence except her word. Atticus is openly addressed as a “nigger lover” because he wants to find justice, even if that justice finds Tom guilty.

The Finches do indeed treat the Black characters in their lives as equals, and important. Atticus and his children regard Calpurnia as a part of their family, where Aunt Alexandra claims that she is little more than a slave and a bad influence on Scout. The fact that Calpurnia is a substitute mother, and performs all the duties a mother would normally perform while Aunt Alexandra offers no such support seems to be irrelevant in the dominant view.

This view also (as narrow worldviews tend to do) contains a good helping of hypocrisy. The churchwomen form a missionary group to support the work of missionaries bringing Christianity to the “heathen savages” of the African Mruna tribe, but they are quick to condemn anyone who helps the Black (and Christian) residents of their own town, whose conditions are hardly better than the Mruna’s. The men talk a good game, but they never make good on their angry promises regarding Tom; that their words scare him satisfies them, and keeps them safely distant from the revenge they claim they seek.

Perhaps the best example of prejudice in To Kill a Mockingbird is exemplified by the Ewells. The red geraniums that Mayella Ewell keeps in her yard are representative of "Southern white womanhood"; it and the white fence surrounding the Ewells’ property seem to reflect the desire to protect the delicate Southern White woman from being “tainted” by any outside influence. Inside influence – Bob Ewell’s regular violent drunken binges – doesn’t count since it is purely “family business.”

The Ewells are poor, and as such live very near the “black quarters” in town; the rank and file of Maycomb county “society” have no interest in them until Mayella claims to have been raped by Tom. As “white trash,” the Ewells only become “purely white” when they offer an opportunity for the rest of the townspeople. Mayella, lonely, abused, and virtually separated from any kind of real kindness, understands Tom’s separation from society, and his kindness prompts her to offer herself in return. Her father can’t accept this situation, making him vulnerable to the mob mentality and more than willing to see Tom die simply for being kind to Mayella.

At the trial, Bob Ewell stands up and exclaims, "I seen that black nigger yonder ruttin' on my Mayella!" This choice of language, particularly the use of "ruttin," resonates with prosecutor Gilmer’s description of Tom as a “big buck.” The prejudice in the trial scene rises to the point where Blacks are no more than beasts, and Tom Robinson has slipped his yoke. Until Atticus coaxes a confession out of Mayella Ewell, her indiscretion is just a part of the way things are, not a crime in itself.

Atticus doesn’t kill racism in Maycomb county; he can’t. But by showing his children racism in action and fighting the prejudice of the “mockingbirds” of this stereotypical Southern town, Atticus plants the seeds of a future in which Blacks and Whites can live in peace.

The Class System in Maycomb County

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To Kill a Mockingbird’s Maycomb County could be considered a microcosm (a small representation) of American class as a whole. A true “upper crust” isn’t present, probably due to Harper Lee’s desire to make the novel a more realistic depiction of a small southern town during the Great Depression of the 1930s – even the most well-off citizens are doing well to get by. The wealthiest citizens of Maycomb County are what people in most communities today might consider “comfortable.” By drawing clear lines between the classes in Maycomb County, Harper Lee shows us the power of class division.

The Finches are near the top of the county’s social strata; Atticus’ position as an attorney sets him apart from the less-educated members of his society. His children, however, lack any pretensions of privilege; they wear blue jeans and overalls like any other country kids, and they show no real prejudice toward any of their peers. Jem and Scout’s new friend Dill, who appears in Chapter 1, seems to lie in the same “comfortable” category as his playmates, with his good clothes that must be changed.

Farm families like the Cunninghams could be considered the “Middle Class” of the area – they are the most prevalent, and they contribute the most to be backbone of the county’s well-being through farming. The Cunningham family is large, and they pay Atticus in turnips or nuts for his legal help and advice. While struggling, the Cunninghams do scrape by on what they can get through hard work and bartering. Many families in the Depression found themselves in the Cunninghams’ position, and made the best with what little they had. Still, within the context of the story, they are seen as inferior due to their lack of material possessions and simple things like Walter’s inability to buy lunch at school. Jem invites Walter home for lunch, where he promptly pours molasses – a luxury at his house – all over his meat and potatoes. As Scout reacts in horror, the Finches’ housekeeper Calpurnia pulls her aside and teaches her her first lesson in class.

The Ewells, even lower on the social ladder than the Cunninghams, might be considered the “Lower Class” of Maycomb County. They are stereotypical “white trash” – their first appearance comes in the person of Burris Ewell, who comes to school once a year to avoid the county’s truancy officer. A bug crawls out of Burris’ hair, terrifying the children’s teacher Miss Caroline, who seems to be unaware of any social class other than the one she comes from (she would be roughly equivalent to the Finches, having enough education to teach school).

The Ewells live on the outskirts of town, surviving in ways we don’t see in the novel. The entire Ewell family has a sinister air, though, as if Bob Ewell and his clan are up to no good. Certainly, Bob’s willingness to frame Tom Robinson for “attacking” his daughter when the opposite was true shows a lack of moral fiber, or perhaps even an understanding of moral and ethical behavior. Mayella herself, abused by her father, seems to have no self-esteem or self-respect, latching onto the only person in town who treats her like a person.

Tom Robinson and the other Black members of Maycomb County society constitute the absolutely lowest class in the county. If the Ewells are examples of the “Lower Class,” the county’s Black residents have no class at all by comparison. This is shown by the way Tom is treated during the obviously sham trial, in which the jury is quick to convict him on the basis of stereotypes and myths about Black men.

The most visible Black characters in the novel, however, are portrayed as kind and gentle, perhaps because their lack of power in society offers them no alternative. Tom is helpful and kind; Calpurnia is hard-working and keeps the children in line, often teaching them lessons about life; most of the members of First Purchase Church, such as Reverend Sykes and Zeebo, welcome the children into their world rather than criticizing or ignoring them. The Black community’s faith seems to hold it together far more closely than any other group despite their complete lack of social standing.

Scout’s first real encounter with the class system in her community comes when she tries to explain Walter Cunningham’s situation with Miss Caroline. Walter is unable to repay the quarter the new teacher offers for lunch, and Scout sees no problem with explaining that fact. When Miss Caroline’s final response is to slap her hand with a ruler, she begins to understand that even talking about issues of class causes problems. When those issues become public, they are even more difficult to deal with.

Through the trial, we see Maycomb county’s classes come out in particularly nasty ways. Bob Ewell hates those “above” and “beneath” him, Tom is trapped within the lowest possible social station, and indirectly dies from it; and Atticus can do nothing from his high social perch to change the minds of a community whose ideas of class are so fixed. There is hope for the future in Scout and Jem, who have the advantage of seeing all the classes displayed and moving between them, but for the majority of Maycomb County, the divisions they place between themselves are a permanent reality.

Why Scout? Gender in To Kill a Mockingbird

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It's no coincidence that young Jean Louise Finch is nicknamed "Scout"; in addition to the obvious symbolism of the term, "Scout" is almost gender-neutral. Harper Lee's examination of racial and class-based issues in To Kill a Mockingbird extend to gender roles as well. Scout symbolically moves from boy to girl and back, giving us a glimpse of the woman she will become, much like Harper Lee herself, who questions southern gender stereotypes as a part of the problem of growing up southern.

Early on in the novel Jem places his sister right on the balance of male and female: "'Scout, I'm tellin' you for the last time, shut your trap or go home - I declare to the Lord you're gettin' more like a girl every day'" (52). "More like a girl" in the sense that she tends to talk through a situation rather than immediately acting upon it, as women are taught, Scout nevertheless shows both feminine and masculine tendencies, giving her an insight no character except possibly her father (the best possible example of masculinity in the book) can hope to achieve.

Having lost her mother at an early age, Scout’s female role models are fleeting at best, and negative at worst. Her aunt Alexandra, brought into town to help Atticus by providing a "motherly" influence, is simply incapable of understanding her niece having any interest in "doing things that required pants" (81). In one particular case, Mrs. Dubose, a grumpy old lady, stops Jem and Scout as they walk into town, asking Scout, "'what are you doing in those overalls? You should be in a dress and camisole, young lady!'" Mrs. Dubose is crabby and unpleasant, and the idea of being like her repulses Scout. Jem's reaction? "'Come on, Scout,' [. . .] be a gentleman'" (101). Much of Scout's gender identity originates with those closest to her, her father and brother, so rolling around in the dirt and fighting with boys (and beating them) comes naturally. Aunt Alexandra and Mrs. Dubose represent opposite extremes of womanhood – the prissy socialite and the rotten old dowager – in effect showing Scout what she does not want to be.

By the time Mayella Ewell enters the book presenting an entirely different type of female, Scout has already realized what stereotypes are: "Ladies in bunches always filled me with vague apprehension and a firm desire to be elsewhere, but this feeling was what Aunt Alexandra called being 'spoiled'" (229). Mayella is a "rebel" in a sense, but also an outcast. She is also a victim of abuse, and Lee expertly contrasts the stubborn little girl who’s not afraid of a fight with the pathetic wisp of a young woman who, at the very least, responds overly gratefully to the slightest kindness.

The term "sexual predator" was coined long after To Kill a Mockingbird was published; however, Mayella Ewell could be defined as one when she sends the children out for ice cream then invites Tom into her house to fix a door that isn’t broken. She ends up grabbing his legs as he reaches up to retrieve a box, hugging him and begging him to kiss her - these actions are more sad than malicious. Lee doesn't seem to think Mayella is a predator, merely a woman so weak she can only rely on her sexuality to alleviate some of the boredom and danger of her home life. But the fact remains that Mayella is weak enough to allow her father, who already has an abusive hold over her, to twist the truth in court to uphold his own "reputation."

Scout isn't interested in becoming a socialite, a matron or a victim; presumably the only option she has left involves a sort of gender-blending that allows her to take on both female and male characteristics. She wears jeans and overalls, even under her fancy dress; she fights and plays rugged boys' games. She begins to lose sight of her feminine side when Jem, who seems to be displaying his own "feminine side," prevents her from squashing a roly-poly. Jem is starting to grow a few chest hairs, and is considering trying out for football; ironically, this is when he really starts paying attention to the value of a more "feminine" perspective, that is, one that is more concerned with his surroundings and the emotions involved. In short, Jem is becoming a more complete person.

Scout is similarly returned to a more "feminine" role at the end of the novel. She enters Jem’s room, where Atticus awaits to read her one of her brother's books. After being exposed to life as seen by wild little boys, social climbers, bitter old ladies and perpetual victims, she is ready to be, if for just one evening, her Daddy’s little girl again. This is significant because this very girlishness is something Scout has rejected throughout the novel, as she has moved through various phases of engagements with the issue of gender. In the end, she wants to try life as Jean Louise Finch instead; it is a life we can assume will carry her well into a well-adjusted adulthood. Like Jem, Scout has "chosen" her gender role by seeing the world from both perspectives. The result brings them both closer to their father, whose fairness and evenness represents the best of both worlds.

Growing Pains: Levels of Maturity in To Kill a Mockingbird

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As To Kill a Mockingbird opens, we get a glimpse of Scout and Jem’s world – dark, overgrown, one might even say a bit decaying. It’s hardly the bright world of Alice in Wonderland or The Wind in the Willows. Neither, though, is it the harsh existence of The Lord of the Flies; the key word to describe Maycomb county would have to be “realism.”

Harper Lee seems to be showing the children as realistic characters in the midst of a heightened “Southern Gothic” background. A great deal of this heightened world comes from the children’s (particularly Scout, the narrator’s) observations and active imaginations: "In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square."(9) The children’s strength lies in the fact that they know their games could have violent (or at least negative) ends, but they play to ensure that all the players are able to return home. On the other hand, adult games hurt those who refuse to play by ever-changing “rules,” and not everyone gets to come home.

These games parallel the children’s development from a total, imaginative innocence to a level of experience by realizing how genuine life’s games really are. For instance, after playing games inspired by children’s books and the pulp literature of the time, Scout, Jem and Dill turn to the world around them for ideas. Boo Radley becomes the perfect “monster,” and they build a legend around him from stories told them by Miss Stephanie Crawford, Atticus, and Miss Maudie. They progress from daring each other to cross into the Radleys’ yard to acting out different versions of Boo stabbing his father in the leg to, even after being scolded by Atticus, attempting to look into one of the Radleys’ windows. Mr. Radley catches them, scaring them into realizing how real their game could be. Artifacts of this incident – the shotgun, Jem's pants left at the scene – remain as reminders, and the children grow a bit.

Childhood name-calling in To Kill a Mockingbird gives way to genuine voices of hatred. The children hear their father called a “Nigger-lover” and other names by people who don’t mean it playfully; their understanding of such things expands as the trial begins and such understanding is essential. So, too, does the incident at the jail. Scout innocently saves her father from a beating at best by simply recognizing Mr. Cunningham and calling out to his humanity. In doing so, she separates him from the safety of the mindless group of which he is a part, preventing violence – a very grown-up act, indeed, although she doesn’t yet realize how much she is changing.

The trial is a game in itself, with Mayella and Bob Ewell and their supporters pitted against Tom Robinson and Atticus, with the children sitting in the “Negro section” of the courtroom, symbolizing where their support lies. The children support their father not just because he is their father; they are coming to realize the stakes in this game, and that these stakes involve right and wrong. Scout and Jem also develop a higher respect for Atticus, because his version of the game involves respect and regard for the individuals involved, innocent or guilty. It is the only truly “adult” behavior in the novel. Atticus’s fairness in the trail makes it even harder for the children to accept the verdict. Atticus explains as well as he can, emphasizing both sides' reasons for their words and actions. They still have a hard time understanding, as the “rules” of the community supercede the rules of fairness and the rule of law.

Outside its own playing field, the trial makes little sense to the children. It also leads to real-life violence, with no rules and no guarantee that anyone (Tom Robinson, in attempting escape, and Bob Ewell later) will return home. Boo Radley, the “monster” from earlier in the book, returns at the end to rescue the children from a crazed Bob Ewell. Believing he and his daughter have been wronged despite the fact that Mayella came on to Tom in the first place, Ewell just wants revenge on anyone, even children. Scout experiences an unusual negative response to missing her entrance in the school’s agricultural pageant (denoting a change in her attitude) then is attacked by Ewell on the way home. Jem attempts to defend his sister, but only when Boo comes out of nowhere does Scout survive. Boo Radley accidentally kills Ewell in the struggle; after carrying the wounded Jem home and sitting with Scout for a while, Boo disappears once more into the Radley house.

Walking home, Scout realizes that their games of imagining what Boo’s life was like no longer matter. He is a human being, no more or less flawed than anyone else in a final analysis. The “monster,” like Tom Robinson and Bob Ewell, isn’t inherently evil, but caught up in situations beyond their control. By deciding to embrace her father's advice to practice sympathy and understanding, Scout emerges ready to deal with an adult world, where the games are real, and the rules change as you go.

Narrative structure of To Kill a Mockingbird: Protesting Prejudice and Racism

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Most critics characterize Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird as a novel of initiation and an indictment of racism. The novel's point of view, in particular, lends credence to these readings. As an older woman, Jean Louise "Scout" Finch, the narrator, reflects on three crucial summers in her childhood. During this time, she, her brother Jem, and their friend Dill encounter two figures who change their views of themselves and their community. The first of these people, Boo Radley, the Finches' reclusive neighbor, develops from a "malevolent phantom" who dominates the children's imaginations to a misunderstood man who saves Scout's and Jem's lives. Tom Robinson, the second and more tragic figure, loses his life because of racial prejudice, teaching the children about the more malicious characteristics of their society and fellow citizens. Guided by the ethical example of their father, Atticus, the children attempt to understand the lives of these two men. Gradually, through their exposure to Boo Radley's life and Tom Robinson's death, they learn about the grave ramifications of the social and racial prejudice that permeate their environment. Their honest and often confused reactions reflect their development as people and also help the reader to gauge the moral consequences of the novel's events.

Boo Radley is a compelling enigma and source of adventure for the children, but he also represents Scout's most personal lesson in judging others based upon surface appearance. In their attempts to see and communicate with Boo, the children enact in miniature their overall objective in the novel: to try to comprehend a world that defies easy, rational explanation. At first, Boo represents the mysterious, the unfathomable, which to the children is necessarily malevolent. They cannot understand why he would remain shut away, so he must be terrifying and evil. They ascribe nightmarish qualities to him that both scare them and stimulate their imaginations. In Jem's "reasonable" description of him, Boo is "six-and-a-half feet tall," dines on raw squirrels and cats, bears a "long jagged scar" on his face, has "yellow and rotten" teeth and "popped" eyes, and drools. He is, in essence, a monster who has lost all traces of his former humanity. And by never appearing to them, Boo always plays the part the children assign him: the silent, lurking antagonist.

Yet even their imaginations cannot keep the children from recognizing incongruities between their conceptions of Boo and evidence about his real character. The items they discover in the tree knothole, for instance, tell them a different story about Boo than the ones they hear around town. The gifts of the gum, Indian head pennies, spelling contest medal, soap-carving dolls, and broken watch and knife all reveal Boo's hesitant, awkward attempts to communicate with them, to tell them about himself. The reader recognizes Boo's commitment to the children in these items, as do Jem and Scout after a time The children, we see, are as fascinating to him as he to them, only for opposite reasons. They cannot see him and must construct a fantasy in order to bring him into their world; he watches them constantly and offers them small pieces of himself so he can become a part of their lives. The fact that Nathan Radley, Boo's brother, ends this communication by filling the hole with cement underscores the hopeless imprisonment that Boo endures, engendering sympathy both in the reader and the children.

After Boo saves the children's lives, Scout can direct her sympathy toward a real person, not a spectral presence. Because of this last encounter with Boo, she learns firsthand about sacrifice and mercy, as well as the more general lesson that Atticus has been trying to teach her: "You never understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." Boo left the safe environment of his home to risk his life for hers, and she knows that his essential goodness and vulnerability need protecting. Hence, he is a like a mockingbird, and to assail him with public notice would be comparable to destroying a defenseless songbird who gives only pleasure to others. As she stands on his porch, she reflects on her former behavior and feels shame "Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies, and our lives. But neighbors give in return. We never put back into the tree what we took out of it; we had given him nothing, and it made me sad." Scout feels remorse over the children's isolation of Boo because of their fear and the prejudices they had accepted at face value. As a result of her experiences with Boo, she can never be comfortable with such behavior again.

While Scout's encounter with Boo Radley makes Atticus's lessons about tolerance tangible and personal, Tom Robinson's trial teaches her about intolerance on a social level. But Lee does not treat this trial solely as a means to develop Scout's character. Instead, the Tom Robinson story becomes the vehicle for Lee's overt social criticism in the novel. We see the town of Maycomb in its worst light, wilting to execute an innocent man for a crime he did not commit rather than question their belief in Black inferiority and their social taboos about interracial relationships. Lee wants to make explicit the consequences of racism and to guide the reader's judgment of this episode in the novel. She accomplishes these goals, in part, by employing Tom Robinson's trial to allude to the famous "Scottsboro Boys" trials of the 1930s. These trials featured nine Black defendants accused of rape by two White women. Despite a lack of evidence and the questionable credibility of the witnesses, the men were sentenced to death by an all-White jury. Unlike Tom Robinson, however, all of these men escaped death after a long series of new trials, in some of which the defendants were still convicted in spite of the evidence. These trials, like Tom Robinson's, revealed the deep-seated racial divisions of the South and the tenacious efforts to maintain these divisions. With the "Scottsboro Boys" trials as historical echoes, Lee points to fundamental American ideals of equality and equal protection under the law (as expressed by and portrayed in Atticus) to criticize the people's failure to meet those ideals. Through Lee's treatment, the White citizens of Maycomb become hypocrites, blind to the contradictions in their own beliefs. Hence, these people are judged, however benignly, by their own standards, standards which the reader shares.

Many of the lessons Tom Robinson's story dramatizes escape Scout's comprehension, but the reader still recognizes them, as does the older Jean Louise The town of Maycomb is a sustaining force in Scout's life, and she views it uncritically as a child and even shares its prejudices. During the trial, for instance, she answers Dill's distress over the prosecuting attorney's sneering treatment of Robinson with "Well, Dill, after all he's just a Negro." She does not experience Dill's visceral repulsion at the trial's racist manipulations, but instead accepts the premise that Blacks are treated as inferiors, even to the point of their utter humiliation. But this attitude stems mostly from her immaturity and inability to comprehend the ramifications of racism. Ultimately, Tom Robinson's trial and death initiate Scout's early questioning of racist precepts and behavior. She sees the effects of racism on her teachers and neighbors, and even feels the sting of it herself. Because of Atticus's involvement with Tom Robinson, for the first time the children must face the social rejection caused by racial bias. They become victims of exclusion and insult, which they would never have expected.

Lee poses a limitation on her social critique in the novel, however, by directing it almost completely through the Finch family rather than through Tom Robinson and his family. This focus makes sense given the point of view of the novel, but it still keeps the Robinson family at a distance from the reader. Calpurnia acts as a partial bridge to the Black community, as does the children's sitting with the Black townspeople at the trial, but we still must discern the tragedy of Robinson's unjust conviction and murder predominantly through the reactions of White, not Black, characters, a fact many might consider a flaw in the novel. Like the children, the reader must rely on Atticus's responses and moral rectitude to steer through the moral complications of Robinson's story. His is a tolerant approach, warning the reader against overharsh judgment. He teaches the children that their White neighbors, no matter their attitudes, are still their friends and that Maycomb is their home. Yet he also asserts that the family must maintain its resolve because "The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience." We see the results of Atticus's words and behavior in the older Jean Louise, who becomes a compassionate yet not uncritical member of her community, both local and national. Finally, through the Finch family's resolve and sympathy, Lee lyrically communicates the need to cherish and protect those who, like mockingbirds, do no harm but are especially vulnerable to the violent injustices of our society.

Source: Darren Felty, in an essay for Novels for Students, Gale, 1997. Felty is a visiting instructor at the College of Charleston.

The Mockingbird's Song

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The subject of To Kill a Mockingbird is also song, that is, expression reading and literacy; both overt and covert attempts at articulation; and communicative art forms, including the novel itself. The particulars of setting in the novel are children's books, grade school texts, many different local newspapers and national news magazines, law books, a hymnal, and the reading aloud of Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe. Much of the novel's action is actually reading, for as the locals and the children believe, that is Atticus Finch's only activity. These expressions are not only attempts to have the self broadcast and realized; more significantly, they are attempts to establish connections beyond or through boundaries.

Contrary to the notion that language and art are cold (for example, the Dracula theme frequently expresses the cold tendency of artists to sacrifice everything, even their own humanity, for their art), in TKM, language and art are usually borne of love and linked to expressions of charity and affection. The Gothic degeneracy of TKM derives from love's opposite—imprisonment and insularity, producing, in the extreme, incest and insanity, a gazing in or a gazing back. Its opposite is the social self, which is civilized in its high and positive sense, and reaches out in the love that overcomes ego in language and art.

Language and other modes of communication are usually not only civilizing in a very positive way, but are avenues of benevolence, and even charity and love. In the novel, we remember Scout reading in Atticus's lap, Atticus reading as he keeps vigil beside Jem's bed, Atticus armed only with a book as he plans to protect Tom Robinson from a lynch mob. The society that imprisons Tom Robinson is the same one that imprisons Scout in the "Dewey Decimal System," Jem's garbled version of the pedagogical theories of the University of Chicago's father of progressive education, John Dewey, which are being faddishly inflicted on the children of Maycomb. The practical result of Dewey's system on Scout is to diminish or hinder her reading and writing, and along with it, her individuality. Each child is herded into a general category that determines whether he or she is "ready" to read or print or write. ("We don't write in the first grade, we print.") The life of the mind and reading in particular is replaced in this progressive educational world with Group Dynamics, Good Citizenship, Units, Projects, and all manner of cliches. As Scout says, "I could not help receiving the impression that I was being cheated out of something. Out of what I knew not, yet I did not believe that twelve years of unrelieved boredom was exactly what the state had in mind for me."

As it is in a Black man's account of slavery (Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass), reading and writing are major themes in TKM. Reading is first introduced with Dill's announcement that he can read, and Jem's counterboast that his sister, Scout, has been reading for years:

"I'm Charles Baker Hams," he said. "I can read."

"So what?" I said.

"I just thought you'd like to know I can read. You got anything needs readin' I can do it. . . ."

The theme continues with Scout's difficulty with her first grade teacher, who resents that Scout is already able to read when she enters school. The heartfelt importance of reading to the child is considered as she contemplates its being denied to her. One notes in the following passage that reading is inextricably connected with her father and with the civilizing, everyday business of this world, that it is somehow as natural as breathing, and that she has learned that it is a crime in the view of her teacher, possibly because reading and writing (the latter taught to her by Calpurnia) are means of empowerment that place her beyond the control of her teacher:

I mumbled that I was sorry and retired meditating upon my crime. I never deliberately learned to read, but somehow I had been wallowing illicitly in the daily papers. In the long hours of church—was it then I learned? I could not remember not being able to read hymns. Now that I was compelled to think about it, reading was something that just came to me, as learning to fasten the seat of my union suit without looking around, or achieving two bows from a snarl of shoelaces. I could not remember when the lines above Atticus's moving finger separated into words, but I had stared at them all the evenings in my memory, listening to the news of the day, Bills To Be Enacted into Laws, the diaries of Lorenzo Dow—anything Atticus happened to be reading when I crawled into his lap every night. Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.

Atticus's civilizing power comes from his reading, a power he has taken on in place of the power of the gun. It is his sole pastime The narrator reports, "He did not do the things our schoolmates' fathers did: he never went hunting, he did not play poker or fish or drink or smoke. He sat in the living room and read." Atticus is reading under the light outside the jail, with only a book and without a gun for protection, when the mob from Old Sarum arrives to harm his client, Tom Robinson. The novel closes with Atticus reading a book in Jem's room as he watches over his son. Members of The Idler's Club, the old men whose chief activity is attending court sessions together, know him as a lawyer whose skill arises from his being "'a deep reader, a mighty deep reader.'" They disparage his reluctance to depart from the civilizing force of the law by saying, "'He reads all right, that's all he does.'" The love of reading is also true of Jem, for "no tutorial system devised by man could have stopped him from getting at books."

The theme of reading and writing as emblems for civilization are shown further in Jem's and Scout's discussion of what determines a "good" or "quality" or "old" family, and Scout's recognition of the importance of literacy: "'I think its how long your family's been readin' and writin'. Scout, I've studied this real hard and that's the only reason I can think of. Somewhere along when the Finches were in Egypt one of 'em must have learned a hieroglyphic or two and he taught his boy.'" To this Scout replies "'Well, I'm glad he could, or who'da taught Atticus and them, and if Atticus couldn't read, you and me'd be in a fix.'"

By contrast, the more powerless Old Sarum residents and Black citizens of Maycomb County are rarely literate; they are generally able only to sign their names. Calpurnia is one of the few Black people in the area who can read. She shocks the children with the information that only four members of her church can read, and one, whom she has taught to read, "lines" the hymns from the hymnbook for all the others to follow. And finally, in contemplating the meaning of "Old Families," Scout realizes that literacy has little to do with intelligence. What she doesn't realize is that it has a great deal to do with power of an intellectual sort.

While reading threads the narrative as surely as the subject of the law does, its meaning is less consistent and more elusive. Despite Scout's reservation about Jem's speculation that reading is connected to "Old Families," it is apparent that, in that it is connected to Atticus, reading denotes a pinnacle of civilized progress. The most civilized, the most humane, the wisest character is the one who reads obsessively.

The continuing powerlessness of the Black and poor White people of Maycomb County is incidental to their inability to read, and their children, in contrast to Scout, are taken out of school, and thus denied their only access to power. A related idea is the control that Mrs. Dubose has over narcotics through forcing Jem to read to her. On the other hand, Zeebo, who leads the singing in the Black church, is an example of one who imbues his reading with spirit and offers it as a gift to his people. Like Calpurnia, he has learned to read from Blackstone's Commentaries, but he uses the language he has been given from the cold letter of the law and imbues it with the warmth and life of the spirit, as he alone is able to lead his church congregation in singing hymns like "On Jordan's Stormy Banks." For the three children, reading, as we have seen, is a way of sharpening the imagination and gaining knowledge of the Other.

The children obsessively make attempts to communicate verbally with Arthur Radley, first by leaving a message for him in the tree, and then, in a blundering fashion, by sticking a note to his window.

Like other dispossessed people in the novel, Boo is doomed to communicate without language, though we suspect him to be literate, for he gives the children a spelling bee medal and is rumored to have stabbed his father in the leg while clipping articles from the newspaper. This begs the question of whether his assault on his father is provoked while he is reading the newspaper because it reminds him of his forced prohibition from establishing an intercourse with the world. So Boo attempts to reach out to the world through other means, and he is thwarted again. A real tragedy of Jem's boyhood, and most likely of Boo's life, is the severing of their channel of communication, the hole in the oak tree, which Boo's older brother cements up. The presents that he leaves in the tree appear to be Boo's last attempt to reach outside his prison. And each present, which is a means of communication, has significance. The chewing gum seems to be a way of proving that he isn't poisonous. The penny, an ancient medium of exchange, is something from the past. The spelling medal is also connected with literacy and communication. The carvings are works of art, communication, and love. The aborted mail profoundly affects Jem, who has played the part of Boo in the childhood dramas with conviction. Right after Jem's discovery of the cemented hole in the tree, Scout observes that "when we went in the house I saw he had been crying." For in shutting off Boo's avenue of expression, Mr. Radley, his brother, has thwarted Jem's as well, and has, more importantly, committed what would be a mortal sin in this novel—he has attempted to silence love.

Art forms other than literary ones occur in the novel, sometimes inadvertently communicating messages that the children don't intend. There is the Radley drama, performed for their own edification, which the neighbors and Atticus finally see. And there is the snow sculpture of Mr. Avery, which the neighbors also recognize. Perhaps because these are self-serving art works, created without a sense of audience, as if art's communicative essence could be ignored, the effects of the play and the snow sculpture are not entirely charitable. On the other hand, Boo's art—the soap sculptures—are lovingly executed as a means of extending himself to the children.

Then there is the story the narrator tells, which, again, unites art with love, somehow making up for the novel's missed and indecipherable messages, like those so frequently found in the Gothic. The novel is a love story about, a love song to, Jem and Atticus, and to Dill, the unloved child, and Boo Radley, whose love was silenced.

The reader of the Gothic, according to William Patrick Day [in In the Circles of Fear and Desire] is "essentially voyeuristic." He further states, "Just as when we daydream and construct idle fantasies for ourselves, the encounter with the Gothic [as readers] is a moment in which the self defines its internal existence through the act of observing its fantasies." Not only are characters in the Gothic enthralled, but the reader of the Gothic is as well. In the case of TKM, readers learn of the enthrallments of Jem, Dill, and Scout. But the reader of their story is also enthralled, not by the horror of racial mixing or the Dracularian Boo, but by the reminders of a lost innocence, of a time past, as unreal, in its way, as Transylvania. We, as readers, encounter the ghosts of ourselves, the children we once were, the simplicity of our lives in an earlier world. While the children's voyeurism is Gothic, our own as readers is romantic. In either case, the encounter is with the unreal. The children's encounter is in that underworld beneath reality, and ours is in a transcendent world above reality, which nostalgia and memory have altered. It is a world where children play in tree houses and swings and sip lemonade on hot summer days, and in the evenings, sit in their fathers' laps to read. Reality and illusion about the past is blurred. Within the novel's Gothicism and Romanticism, we as readers are enthralled with the past, and, like the responses elicited by the Gothic, we react with pain and pleasure to an involvement with our past world and our past selves.

Source: Claudia Durst Johnson, "The Mockingbird's Song," in To Kill a Mockingbird: Threatening Boundaries, Twayne Publishers, 1994, pp. 107-14.

In Defense of To Kill a Mockingbird

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The critical career of To Kill a Mockingbird is a late-twentieth-century case study of censorship. When Harper Lee's novel about a small southern town and its prejudices was published in 1960, the book received favorable reviews in professional journals and the popular press. Typical of that opinion, Booklist's reviewer called the book "melodramatic" and noted "traces of sermonizing," but the book was recommended for library purchase, commending its "rare blend of wit and compassion." Reviewers did not suggest that the book was young adult literature, or that it belonged in adolescent collections; perhaps that is why no one mentioned the book's language or violence. In any event, reviewers seemed inclined to agree that To Kill a Mockingbird was a worthwhile interpretation of the South's existing social structures during the 1930s.

In 1961 the book won the Pulitzer Prize Award, the Alabama Library Association Book Award, and the Brotherhood Award of the National Conference of Christians and Jews. It seemed that Harper Lee's blend of family history, local custom, and restrained sermonizing was important reading, and with a young girl between the ages of six and nine as the main character, To Kill a Mockingbird moved rapidly into junior and senior high school libraries and curriculum. The book was not destined to be studied by college students. Southern literature's critics rarely mentioned it; few university professors found it noteworthy enough to "teach" as an exemplary southern novel.

By the mid-sixties To Kill a Mockingbird had a solid place in junior and senior high American literature studies. Once discovered by southern parents, the book's solid place became shaky indeed. Sporadic lawsuits arose. In most cases the complaint against the book was by conservatives who disliked the portrayal of Whites. Typically, the Hanover County School Board in Virginia first ruled the book "immoral," then withdrew their criticism and declared that the ruckus "was all a mistake" (Newsletter [on Intellectual Freedom] 1966). By 1968 the National Education Association listed the book among those which drew the most criticism from private groups. Ironically it was rated directly behind Little Black Sambo (Newsletter 1968). And then the seventies arrived.

Things had changed in the South during the sixties. Two national leaders who had supported integration and had espoused the ideals of racial equality were assassinated in southern regions. When John F. Kennedy was killed in Texas on November 22, 1963, many southerners were shocked. Populist attitudes of racism were declining, and in the aftermath of the tragedy southern politics began to change. Lyndon Johnson gained the presidency; Blacks began to seek and win political offices. Black leader Martin Luthe King had stressed the importance of racial equality, always using Mahatma Gandhi's strategy of nonviolent action and civil disobedience. A brilliant orator, King grew up m the South; the leader of the [Southern Christian Leadership Conference], he lived in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1968, while working on a garbage strike in Memphis, King was killed. The death of this 1965 Nobel Peace Prize winner was further embarrassment for White southerners. Whites began to look at public values anew, and gradually southern Blacks found experiences in the South more tolerable. In 1971 one Atlanta businessman observed [in Ebony], "The liberation thinking is here. Blacks are more together. With the doors opening wider, this area is the mecca. . . ." Southern arguments against To Kill a Mockingbird subsided. The Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom contained no record of southern court cases during the seventies or eighties. The book had sustained itself during the first period of sharp criticism; it had survived regional protests from the area it depicted.

The second onslaught of attack came from new groups of censors, and it came during the late seventies and early eighties. Private sectors in the Midwest and suburban East began to demand the book's removal from school libraries. Groups, such as the Eden Valley School Committee in Minnesota, claimed that the book was too laden with profanity (Newsletter 1978). In Vernon, New York, Reverend Carl Hadley threatened to establish a private Christian school because public school libraries contained such "filthy, trashy sex novels" as A Separate Peace and To Kill a Mockingbird (Newsletter 1980). And finally, Blacks began to censor the book. In Warren, Indiana, three Black parents resigned from the township Human Relations Advisory Council when the Warren County school administration refused to remove the book from Warren junior high school classes. They contended that the book "does psychological damage to the positive integration process and represents institutionalized racism" (Newsletter 1982). Thus, censorship of To Kill a Mockingbird swung from the conservative right to the liberal left. Factions representing racists, religious sects, concerned parents, and minority groups vocally demanded the book's removal from public schools. With this kind of offense, what makes To Kill a Mockingbird worth defending and keeping?

When Harper Lee first introduces Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, she is almost six years old. By the end of the book Scout is in the third grade. Throughout the book events are described by the adult Scout who looks back upon life in the constricted society of a small southern town. Since it is the grown-up Scout's story, the young Scout Finch becomes a memory more than a reality. The book is not a vivid recollection of youth gone by so much as a recounting of days gone by. Yet, Scout Finch's presence as the events' main observer establishes two codes of honor, that of the child and of the adult. The code of adult behavior shows the frailty of adult sympathy for humanity and emphasizes its subsequent effect upon overt societal attitudes. Throughout the book Scout sees adults accepting society's rules rather than confronting them. When Scout finds school troublesome, Atticus tells Scout that they will continue reading together at night, then adds, "you'd better not say anything at school about our agreement." He explains away the Maycomb Ku Klux Klan, saying, "it was apolitical organization more than anything. Besides, they couldn't find anybody to scare." And when he discusses the case of a Black man's word against a White man's with his brother, Atticus says, "The jury couldn't possibly be expected to take Tom Robinson's word against the Ewells'. . . . Why reasonable people go stark raving mad when anything involving a Negro comes up, is something I don't pretend to understand." The author tells us that Atticus knew Scout was listening in on this conversation and purposely explained that he had been court appointed, adding, "I'd hoped to get through life without a case of this kind. . . ." And when the jury does see fit to try and condemn Tom Robinson, Scout's older brother Jem and good friend Dill see the White southern world for what it is: a world of hypocrisy, a world burdened with old racist attitudes which have nothing to do with humanity. Jem says, "I always thought Maycomb folks were the best folks in the world, least that's what they seemed like." Dill decides he will be a new kind of clown. "I'm gonna stand in the middle of the ring and laugh at the folks. . . . Every one of 'em oughta be ridin' broomsticks."

The majority of White adults in Maycomb are content to keep Blacks, women and children in their place. Atticus's only sister comes to live with the family and constantly tells Scout she must learn how to act, that she has a place in society: womanhood with its stifling position of prim behavior and wagging tongues is the essence of southern decorum. Even Atticus, the liberal minded hero, says that perhaps it's best to keep women off the juries of Alabama because, "I doubt if we'd ever get a complete case tried—the ladies'd be interrupting to ask questions." By the end of the book Scout has accepted the rules of southern society. The once hated aunt who insisted upon Scout's transformation into a proper young lady becomes an idol for her ability to maintain proper deportment during a crisis. Scout follows suit, reasoning "if Aunty could be a lady at a time like this, so could I."

The courtroom trial is a real example of Southern justice and Southern local color storytelling. Merrill Skaggs has analyzed the local color folklore of southern trials in his book The Folk of Southern Fiction. Skaggs comments that there is a formula for court hearings, and he suggests that local color stories show that justice in the courtroom is, in fact, less fair than justice in the streets. He discusses justice in terms of the Black defendant, saying, "Implicit in these stories . . . is an admission that Negroes are not usually granted equal treatment before the law, that a Negro is acquitted only when he has a white champion." During the trial in To Kill a Mockingbird Tom Robinson says he ran because he feared southern justice. He ran, he says, because he was "scared I'd hafta face up to what I didn't do." Dill is one of Lee's young protagonists. He is angered by the southern court system. The neglected son of an itinerant mother, Dill is a stereotype of southern misfits. Lee doesn't concentrate upon Dill's background; she concentrates upon his humanity. The courtroom scene is more than local humor to him. It is appalling. When he flees the trial, Scout follows. She cannot understand why Dill is upset, but the notorious rich "drunk" with "mixed children" can. He sees Dill and says, "it just makes you sick, doesn't it?" No one, save Jem and his youthful converts, expects Atticus to win. The Black minister who has befriended the children warns, "I ain't ever seen any jury decide in favor of a colored man over a white man." In the end Atticus says, "They've done it before and they did it tonight and they'll do it again and when they do it—seems that only children weep." And Miss Maudie tells the children, "as I waited I thought, Atticus Finch won't win, he can't win, but he's the only man in these parts who can keep a jury out so long in a case like that." Then she adds, "we're making a step—it's just a baby-step, but it's a step."

In his book, Skaggs points out that obtaining justice through the law is not as important as the courtroom play in southern trials and that because the courtroom drama seldom brings real justice, people condone "violence within the community." Atticus realizes that "justice" is often resolved outside of the court, and so he is not surprised when the sheriff and the town leaders arrive at his house one night. The men warn Atticus that something might happen to Tom Robinson if he is left in the local jail; the sheriff suggests that he can't be responsible for any violence which might occur. One of the men says, "—don't see why you touched it [the case] in the first place. . . . You've got everything to lose from this, Atticus. I mean everything." Because Atticus wants courtroom justice to resolve this conflict, he tries to protect his client. On the night before the trial Atticus moves to the front of the jail, armed only with his newspaper. While there, the local lynching society arrives, ready to take justice into its own hands. Scout, Jem, and Dill have been watching in their own dark corner, but the crowd bothers Scout and so she bursts from her hiding spot. As she runs by, Scout smells "stale whiskey and pigpen," and she realizes that these are not the same men who came to the house earlier. It is Scout's innocence, her misinterpretation of the seriousness of the scene, her ability to recognize one of the farmers and to talk with guileless ease to that man about his own son which saves Tom Robinson from being lynched. The next morning Jem suggests that the men would have killed Atticus if Scout hadn't come along. Atticus who is more familiar with adult southern violence, says "might have hurt me a little, but son, you'll understand folks a little better when you're older. A mob's always made up of people, no matter what. . . . Every little mob in every little southern town is always made up of people you know—doesn't say much for them does it?" Lynching is a part of regional lore in the South. In his study of discrimination, Wallace Mendelson pointed out that the frequency of lynchings as settlement for Black/White problems is less potent than the terrorizing aspect of hearing about them. In this case, the terrorizing aspect of mob rule had been viewed by the children. Its impact would remain.

After the trial Bob Ewell is subjected to a new kind of Southern justice, a polite justice. Atticus explains, "He thought he'd be a hero, but all he got for his pain was . . . was, okay, we'll convict this Negro but get back to your dump." Ewell spits on Atticus, cuts a hole in the judge's screen, and harasses Tom's wife. Atticus ignores his insults and figures, "He'll settle down when the weather changes." Scout and Jem never doubt that Ewell is serious, and they are afraid. Their early childhood experiences with the violence and hypocrisy in southern White society have taught them not to trust Atticus's reasoning but they resolve to hide their fear from the adults around them. When Ewell does strike for revenge, he strikes at children. The sheriff understands this kind of violence. It is similar to lynching violence. It strikes at a minority who cannot strike back, and it creates a terror in law-abiding citizens more potent than courtroom justice. It shows that southern honor has been consistently dealt with outside of the courtroom.

Harper Lee's book concerns the behavior of Southerners in their claim for "honor," and Boo Radley's presence in the story reinforces that claim. When Boo was young and got into trouble, his father claimed the right to protect his family name. He took his son home and kept him at the house. When Boo attacked him, Mr. Radley again asked for family privilege; Boo was returned to his home, this time never to surface on the porch or in the yard during the daylight hours. The children are fascinated with the Boo Radley legend. They act it out, and they work hard to make Boo come out. And always, they wonder what keeps him inside. After the trial, however, Jem says, "I think I'm beginning to understand something. I think I'm beginning to understand why Boo Radley's stayed shut up in the house . . . it's because he wants to stay inside."

Throughout the book Boo is talked about and wondered over, but he does not appear in Scout's existence until the end when he is needed by the children. When no one is near to protect them from death, Boo comes out of hiding. In an act of violence he kills Bob Ewell, and with that act he becomes a part of southern honor. He might have been a hero. Had a jury heard the case, his trial would have entertained the entire region. The community was unsettled from the rape trial, and this avenged death in the name of southern justice would have set well in Maycomb, Alabama. Boo Radley has been outside of southern honor, however, and he is a shy man. Lee has the sheriff explain the pitfalls of southern justice when he says, "Know what'd happen then? All the ladies in Maycomb includin' my wife'd be knocking on his door bringing angel foodcakes. To my way of thinkin'. . . that's a sin. . . . If it was any other man it'd be different." The reader discovers that southern justice through the courts is not a blessing. It is a carnival.

When Harper Lee was five years old the Scottsboro trial began. In one of the most celebrated southern trials, nine Blacks were accused of raping two White girls. The first trial took place in Jackson County, Alabama. All nine were convicted. Monroeville, Lee's hometown, knew about the case. Retrials continued for six years, and with each new trial it became more obvious that southern justice for Blacks was different from southern justice for Whites. Harper Lee's father was a lawyer during that time. Her mother's maiden name was Finch. Harper Lee attended law school, a career possibility suggested to Scout by well-meaning adults in the novel. To Kill a Mockingbird is set in 1935, midpoint for the Scottsboro case.

Scout Finch faces the realities of southern society within the same age span that Harper Lee faced Scottsboro. The timeline is also the same. Although Lee's father was not the Scottsboro lawyer who handled that trial, he was a southern man of honor related to the famous gentleman soldier, Robert E. Lee. It is likely that Harper Lee's father was the author's model for Atticus Finch and that the things Atticus told Scout were the kinds of things Ama Lee told his daughter. The attitudes depicted are ones Harper Lee grew up with, both in terms of family pride and small town prejudices.

The censors' reactions to To Kill a Mockingbird were reactions to issues of race and justice. Their moves to ban the book derive from their own perspectives of the book's theme. Their "reader's response" criticism, usually based on one reading of the book, was personal and political. They needed to ban the book because it told them something about American society that they did not want to hear. That is precisely the problem facing any author of realistic fiction. Once the story becomes real, it can become grim. An author will use first-person flashback in story in order to let the reader live in another time, another place. Usually the storyteller is returning for a second view of the scene. The teller has experienced the events before and the story is being retold because the scene has left the storyteller uneasy. As the storyteller recalls the past both the listener and the teller see events in a new light. Both are working through troubled times in search of meaning. In the case of To Kill a Mockingbird the first-person retelling is not pleasant, but the underlying significance is with the narrative. The youthful personalities who are recalled are hopeful. Scout tells us of a time past when White people would lynch or convict a man because of the color of his skin. She also shows us three children who refuse to believe that the system is right, and she leaves us with the thought that most people will be nice if seen for what they are: humans with frailties. When discussing literary criticism, Theo D'Haen suggested [in Text to Reader] that the good literary work should have a life within the world and be "part of the ongoing activities of that world." To Kill a Mockingbird continues to have life within the world; its ongoing activities in the realm of censorship show that it is a book which deals with regional moralism. The children in the story seem very human; they worry about their own identification, they defy parental rules, and they cry over injustices. They mature in Harper Lee's novel, and they lose their innocence. So does the reader. If the readers are young, they may believe Scout when she says, "nothin's real scary except in books." If the readers are older they will have learned that life is as scary, and they will be prepared to meet some of its realities.

Source: Jill May, "In Defense of To Kill a Mockingbird," in Censored Books: Critical Viewpoints, edited by Nicholas J. Karolides, Lee Burress, John M. Kean, The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1993, pp. 476-84.

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Critical Overview


To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee