Tuesday, November 2, 2010
More Library Blogs
October 30, 2010
A few nights ago, I was walking my pup through the leaf-littered Clintonville sidewalks in my neighborhood. It was after ten on a cloudy Sunday night, and the streets were empty. As we crunched through the dry leaves, I looked around, creeped out. Pup was jumpy, too, and I found myself thinking about the Halloween Ham scene in the Book That Changed My Life.
I stumbled across To Kill a Mockingbird when I was eleven; it was my first adult read, and from its opening line, “When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow”, I knew I’d found a story that would hold my attention—at eleven, and through each decade when I’d reread this classic.
“Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it…A day was twenty-four hours long, but seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with…” intones Jean Louise Finch, better known as Scout. Along with Jem, her brother, older by four years, and seven-year old Dill, who visits next-door each summer, the three look for adventure in their Depression-era little town. A favorite activity is creating stories centering on their unseen neighbor, Arthur “Boo” Radley, a recluse. Boo stabbed his father in the leg years before, and was confined to the house by his parents. The house was the typical scary/creepy neighborhood house, so it provides great inspiration for their Gothic creations.
Jem and Scout’s father, Atticus, is called on to defend a young black man accused of rape. Although it is patently apparent that the charges are false, some in the tiny Alabama town don’t want to stand up to the racist father, who is obviously trying to cover up his own crimes of abuse, and possibly incest.
So where does the Mockingbird image fit in? Jem receives an air rifle for Christmas, with an admonishment from his father, “Shoot all the blue jays you want…but remember, it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” When Scout questions that statement, Dill’s aunt explains, “They don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us.”
It is Lee’s amazing narrative voice that makes this Depression-era coming-of-age story so very compelling. Scout’s voice remains true, be she six years old, or telling her story in retrospect. There’s a gentle wryness to Scout’s voice, probably that of Lee herself, that softens the harsh themes of racism. This is a tale about growing up and discovering that adults can be racist and cruel, but it is also a tale about finding your own voice, and gaining the courage to face those who would try to deny anyone their basic rights.
A few fun facts about TKAM:
To date, this is Harper Lee’s only published novel.
The character Dill, was based on Lee’s best friend, Truman Capote. Like Dill, Truman Capote would spend summers with his aunts, next door to Lee. Early works by Capote have a very similar style to Mockingbird; there have been suggestions that Capote himself had a hand in the story.
Like Atticus, Lee’s father was a lawyer. Lee herself studied law and the University of Alabama.
Frustrated while writing the book, Lee tossed the work-in-progress out a window, and into the snow. Her agent convinced her to retrieve it.
Like the Radley’s, Lee’s street in Monroeville, Alabama had a family who lived in a boarded-up house. The son had gotten into some legal trouble, and the family kept him locked up in the house.
at 3:46 PM