50th Anniversary of “To Kill a Mockingbird”

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of the novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee.   The novel tells the story of Tom Robinson, a black man who is falsely accused of raping a white woman.  What makes the story so engaging is that it is told from the perspective of a child – Jean Louise Finch, or “Scout,” as she’s known.   The story is set in the depression-era fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama was based on Lee’s actual hometown of Monroeville, Alabama.

I read this novel as a kid and it had a profound effect on me.  In fact, for years I had two dogs named for characters in the book:  “Scout” and “Boo.”   And, when I once toyed with the idea of collecting data on white supremacist groups by signing up for their mailing lists (pre-Internet days, and an idea I later abandoned), I used the alias “Jean Louise Finch.”

(In the movie version, Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, Brock Peters as Tom Robinson)

The key figure in the novel is Atticus Finch, often heralded as a kind of white, southern civil rights hero,  but that view has recently been called into question.

What’s your memory of this book? Have you  ever read it? Or, re-read it recently.  Do you think that Atticus Finch was a hero?  Or, was he as much a part of the problem with the Jim Crow south as the lynch mob?

Comments

  1. cordoba blue

    I’ve read this book several times and actually have a signed copy inscribed to me by Harper Lee. Atticus fought very hard against the narrow minded town he lived in.
    In one part of the book he argues with his sister about the absurdity of “preserving southern womenhood” in the face of the fact that “a man’s life is at stake”. Obviously his sister thought it wasn’t proper to defend anyone against a southern women who claimed she’d been raped. It actually might prove she hadn’t been raped, God Forbid.
    Also, Atticus seats himself outside the county jail all night while a lynch mob is forming to hang the suspect. When they arrive, he refuses to budge. They all finally disperse. In this case, he puts his own life in jeopardy.
    Harper Lee left Monroeville and lived in New York City most of her life. She couldn’t stand the southern mentality wherein everybody gossiped about everybody else and you were ranked on how “old your family was”. In fact Atticus even addresses that in the novel. “One family is as old as another.” The point being that it was impossible to try to base hierarchy on things nobody could control, like whose silly family arrived in America first or your ethnic group!
    Lee occasionally visits her sister there who is also an attorney. Her neighbor as a child was actually Truman Capote! In fact one of the little kids in the book is based on him. She accompanied Truman to Kansas when he interviewed people on the facts of the murder case for his book In Cold Blood.
    We could pick apart Atticus and probably find minutia wherein he didn’t meet up to somebody’s standards of what constitutes a true anti-racist. But given all the energy and emotional depth he emitted during this rape case, I think Harper Lee deserves exactly what she received for this volume: a Pulitzer Prize. Teachers all over America have taught this book for decades and hopefully it has opened many young people’s eyes to the ignorance and horrors of racism.

  2. ThirtyNine4Ever

    It has been a while, but I did read that novel. I think Atticus Finch was a failed hero trying to fix the system from within. He manages to stop the lynching but ultimately fails to save the innocent black man. I think Harper Lee was trying to show to the world that entrenched racism in the deep south wouldn’t be stopped from within by noble whites. Mind you I’m an engineer by training so my literary analysis skills are very lacking.

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