Friday, February 10, 2012

Child Wisdom from To Kill a Mockingbird

Jem and Scout, from the film starring
Gregory Peck
Somehow, I never read To Kill a Mockingbird until now. Go ahead. I'll wait until everyone is done lambasting me. [Looks at sky. Whistles. Bounces up and down on toes. Listens. Waits for a guy in Gdansk to get in his last barbed verbal missile.] But I'm glad.

Experiencing the book, now, as an adult, might be better than having read it, as many of our kids do in the U.S., in the eighth grade. I might have just chalked it up as a good read that I remembered fondly, had I read it then. Now, I am nothing short of in love with the book. As far as I'm concerned, it is just about a perfect novel.

That said, the book is sad, in lots of ways. But, most powerfully, it explores, through the eyes of children (eyes which, sadly, must be opened to such things), the general awfulness and superficiality of people. Of late, and as a consistent theme on Hats and Rabbits, the idea that society and groupthink are bad things has weighed heavily upon my disposition. I feel much as Jem must in this excerpt from the novel, after he and his little sister, Scout, witnessed the unfair trial of Tom Robinson, a black man in the white-dominated Southern town of Maycomb, in 1935. Scout starts:
     "...Naw, Jem. I think there's just one kind of folks. Folks."

     Jem turned around and punched his pillow. When he settled back, his face was cloudy. He was going into one of his declines, and I grew wary. His brows came together; his mouth became a thin line. He was silent for awhile.

     "That's what I thought, too," he said at last, "when I was your age. If there's just one kind of folks, why can't they get along with each other? If they're all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other? Scout, I'm beginning to understand something. I think I'm beginning to understand why Boo Radley's stayed shut up in the house all this time... it's because he wants to stay inside."
Indeed, Jem. Indeed. I have gone into just such a decline and have greeted sleep with just such a punch of the pillow on many a night, especially the past few.

We've built a societal machine that we can't control; we jusdge others before we know them; we turn on a dime for our own welfare; we kill each other for politics and hunches; we join groups to help us think. If you need me, I'll be playing checkers with Boo Radley.


  1. Love this!

    Now, if you'll excuse me, I will be shaking my head for while that you just NOW read the book!

  2. Just to provide a counterpoint - sometimes those groups make use question our own thinking in ways we can't question ourselves. I'm very much of a lone thinker, but when I spend time conversing with other thinkers, I discover different perspectives that can make me rethink. Sometimes, a new perspective is the most useful of all things.

  3. Matt -- Conversation, I am all for. It's essential, I think, in developing our opinions. What I am not interested in is shaping my philosophy to fit in with a group's. And, in the end, my final conclusions are reached in a silent room, where I reflect, alone.

  4. I agree with you, I really, really do...(particularly on the theme of the dangers of group think) but I also think that it's a glass half full/perspective issue as far as how we let this weigh on our minds. The somewhat oxymoronic thought that comes to mind is that we can't let society make us lose our faith in humankind. I won't believe in the "general awfulness and superficiality of people"...many people, yes. But Jem's right -- there's not just one type of folks, and that means that awfulness and superficiality don't necessarily apply to everyone. I think one has to force themselves to simultaneously look at all of the examples of the better angels of our nature (I'll start right here with yourself and your good readers) -- those souls who search for the important things beyond the edges of the map -- and let THOSE folks offer a ray of hope. We then fortify ourselves with that knowledge to not LET the awfulness force us inside. Life is too precious for that.

    1. Hi, HC. You're right, of course. I wrote something a long time ago on here -- can't remember what -- in which I addressed this: I like people. I do. I just like them less as they accumulate around me in greater numbers. And, in truth, this post was a bit of an emotional one.

      But stuff gets to us, for sure. I just watched, after I wrote this, a documentaty on ...Mockingbird in which Oprah Winfrey tells of the time she met Harper Lee for lunch. (Lee does no interviews and doesn't write anymore.) Winfrey referenced, in the conversation, that Scout was Lee. Lee responded that she is not Scout; she is Boo Radley. Sad and understandable...