“You aren’t really a nigger-lover, then, are you?”
“I certainly am. I do my best to love everybody…”
And that is exactly what this book is about- trying to love everybody in equal parts. I haven’t had the pleasure of reading this classic since it was assigned in the ninth grade. I remember enjoying it then even if I forgot most of the details and I was still moved by it more than a decade later. I was totally jarred the first time she used “nigger” in the narrative but I understood why. I understood that the children were presented as ignorant and we were meant to be clicking our tongues at them. I also understood that in 1960 people were more than likely not as offended by the use of the word as I was and I took some comfort in that idea. I would like to think that there has been progress in the fight against racial prejudice even if it does not always feel that way.
The book itself is wonderful. Harper Lee never published anything else but this book stands as one of the greatest books in all of literature. Each character is interesting and fully developed, even if some are only touched upon briefly. I absolutely think that Atticus Finch is one of the greatest fictional characters of all time as well as the trio of Jem, Scout and Dill. They made mistakes in a way that was realistic but they were able to learn from them in a believable manner. Each grow from the beginning to the end of the narrative- even Atticus. The writing itself is smooth and infinitely enjoyable as it is both warm and funny. I forgot how funny it was, or maybe I didn’t get the jokes when I was 13. I have to admit that a lot of the message is very subtle. The separation of black and white culture is not always pointed out but must be picked up on by the reader if they choose to do so. Otherwise it is just a tale of an exciting trial in a sleepy southern town. The further message is deciphered by the reader or not.
Furthermore, the movie (the 50th anniversary is this year) is equally as engaging as the book which is often not the case. I had the pleasure of catching a showing on TCM the day that I finished the book in a bit of serendipitous luck. Gregory Peck is nearly flawless as Atticus and the Oscar is well deserved but I must admit that the cast of children are also wonderful. They are sensitive and charming just as the book describes them. And the one actor who plays Dill looks just how I imagine a young Truman Capote, who is famously the inspiration for the precocious youth. I highly recommend watching the film as a companion to the novel. Though my only complaint is that in Hollywood’s constant search for perfection the gentleman playing Boo Radley is far more handsome that the book describes. But it can be overlooked given the accuracy of the rest of the film.
If you want to read more on race relations in America…
The Marrow of Tradition is a fictionalization of the race riots that occurred in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898. It is fascinating as a discussion on race relations in America even if it is centralized in the south. The book does include commentary on the entirety of the human race and not only coming down on the idea that whites are bad or blacks are good but that we are all individuals who are capable of a broad spectrum of actions. I knew nothing about the riots which made the cultural edition that I read indispensable as it has other documents to help understand both the causes of as well as the impact on the society that the riots had. I believe it comes with the same message as To Kill A Mockingbird- love your fellow man despite any perceptible differences.
See you later, see you soon.