To Kill a Mockingbird

I don’t remember the first time I read the Harper Lee classic To Kill a Mockingbird. I know I wasn’t  old enough to grasp all the adult themes. What attracted me to it then was the depiction of Maycomb, the small Southern town that could’ve been Franklin. I had read children’s books with a similar setting, but nothing this grown up.

I hope that you already know the story of Atticus Finch and his children, Scout and Jem, and their neighbor Dill, who was based on Lee’s childhood friend Truman Capote. Atticus, a lawyer, is appointed to represent a  black man, Tom Robinson, who is accused of raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell. In the course of the movie, and even moreso in the book, you see the intricate social strata that could be found throughout the South for the century after the Civil War.

There were families like the Finches–educated, living in town. There were the rich landowners out in the country. There was a vast group of laborers–the Cunningham family in this case. They might’ve finished high school, but just as likely didn’t. But they were hard working and, except for the occasional Saturday night, law-abiding. Then you had the blacks who worked in the fields at the farms and in the kitchens of the houses in town. At the very lowest end of the scale were the Ewells–uneducated white trash who lived off the generosity of the county.

 (I remember an encounter with one of our local “Ewells” in sixth grade. I was probably 11–I think she was at least 14. She had pasty skin and permanently greasy hair. She came up to me one day at lunch and  said “me and my boyfriend done it last night.” Naturally, I said ‘Did what?” “We done it,”  she said. Remember, this was before cable tv–I had no idea what she was talking about. I don’t know what ever  happened to her.)

That was the way Harper Lee depicted life in Maycomb  in 1932 and to my recollection it wasn’t that different in Franklin in 1965.

In the climatic courtroom scenes, Atticus proves that Tom Robinson–who only has the use of one arm–could not have beaten and raped Mayella. (Remember, this is 1932. There was no DNA evidence–Mayella hadn’t even seen a doctor.) According to Tom’s testimony, it was Mayella’s father who beat her.

Tom testifies that he often did small chores for Mayella for no pay. When asked why, he says that he felt sorry for her.

That is the crux of the movie…that a black man felt sorry for a white woman. That’s always about the time I start crying as well. Tom is convicted and dies the same day trying to escape. The scene where Atticus goes to tell Tom’s wife of his death is heart-breaking.

This is one of those movies that I will always watch. No telling how many times I’ve seen it. It was on today, and despite our beautiful spring-like weather, I watched. It’s also one of those rare movies that is as good as the book it’s based on.

Most movies about the South get it all wrong. Bad accents. Bad cliches. And they hardly ever get “y’all” right (it’s always plural). But native daughter Harper Lee understood. To Kill a Mockingbird was her only novel.

I think she knew that anything else would pale in comparison.

11 Comments

Filed under At Home, Nostalgia

11 responses to “To Kill a Mockingbird

  1. Niece Lash

    “I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks. ” Scout

    Out of the mouths of (southern) babes. Ms. Lee created perfection with this one. In drama class back in high school, I chose as my monologue to quote Atticus’ courtroom speech. So powereful…not my rendition, but the one in the book of course.

  2. I loved the book and the movie. I remember reading somewhere that Harper Lee was asked why she didn’t write another book. Her response? “I said all I needed to say.”

    Very few authors can claim that and have it be true. She is one of them.

  3. Hmm…I re-read that and I don’t think it came our right. What I meant was that she said everything she wanted to say about growing up in the South during that time period and that she did it so well, she didn’t need to keep trying to get it right.

  4. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my all-time favorite books/movies. I can understand why Lee didn’t write another novel afterwards. How can you top perfection? My favorite scene is the one where Scout is slouching up on the second level of the courtrooom and the woman behind her tells her to stand up because her father was passing. So moving.

  5. Jen

    I haven’t seen the movie and I haven’t read the book in a long, long time. But you just made me want to do both. I do remember that it was well written.

  6. I met Harper Lee a few years ago http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=HarperLeeSpeaks&view=videos&sort=v when she was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by The Birmingham Pledge Foundation.

    She’s the best ever.

  7. I always try to forget that Tom dies. Always. And then I remember and it feels better than trying to forget that he dies.

  8. I grew up in a Maycomb as well and fell in love with this book the first time I read it. There is so much great literature that came out of the South in the 20th century – Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Faulkner (of course) and on and on.

  9. Julie Fisher

    That book, that movie–you can just feel the humid heat, the dust, the porch swing, the slow movement of time, and you sure can hear the languid speech that pours out of mouths like molasses. I sometimes wonder if people from other parts of the country really can “get” a southern novel.

  10. Great summary of a great book.

    I saw this post in my reader a while ago and put off reading it because my life was crazy, and I wanted to savor it.

    Nice . . .

  11. TKAM is my favorite book. I taught it every year to my high school students and read it still at least once a year for myself. And I agree that the movie is great!

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