To Kill a Mockingbird is turning 50 years old. The story of Scout and Gem and Dill making plays in the street about their shut-in neighbor in an effort to lure him outside is one of the most enduring images in American Literature (in my humble opinion). I remember it as if I were there. The little treats they would find in the tree outside his house, missives from a dark inside, from someone shuttered-in and not free, who saw them play and wanted to join them. The outrage when his caregiver cemented over the hole in the tree where their communication was only just beginning. They only knew stories of this man from years before, and he hadn’t been seen since. They desperately wanted to know him. On numerous occasions, he protected them without them really seeing, only becoming aware after the fact that he had been watching over them.
Their curiosity of the world around them gives us so much of an intimate closeness to them, and the people all around them. They are the innocents in the midst of a racial upheaval in their town – all the while they are playing their games, and trying not to get in trouble at school for already knowing how to read. In the course of the story they are exposed to a woman dying and coming clean from her addictions so she could have her dying breath a free breath. They encounter bullies, and mean spirits. Scout witnesses a good man on the verge of doing something bad, and talks him out of it with her “Hello,” and her “remember when?” He remembers that Atticus took his case in exchange for produce from his farm. Atticus, Scout and Gem’s lawyer father, has taken a case that cannot be won at this time in history, in this community. He takes it anyway to give the accused man a fair trial, and the whole town comes out to see.
I don’t think I’ve ever cried so hard as when Atticus left the courtroom, and the entire balcony of black viewers stood silently to show respect for this white man, this great man, who had taken up their cause. They all knew he wouldn’t win. Everyone seemed to know. Yet Atticus put his best work in front of that judge and jury. People in the town learned to see things differently in spite of themselves. It was still too early for a grand awakening, but oh, was it ever close. It almost, almost worked.
The author never wrote another story. I’ve often wished she would have kept writing. But this was such a masterpiece, and so much of a story to tell, it was her one glorious hit. She woke up America, I believe. She told a story with warmth and love, with childlike wonder, and childhood pranks, surrounded by some of the ugliest courtroom moments of pure evil, it seemed, putting a man on trial who so clearly couldn’t have done the crime.
What are your favorite parts of To Kill a Mockingbird? What are the moments that still take your breath away? In what way has Scout shaped who you are as a Woman? Are you spunkier because of knowing her? Are you fearless and bold? Do you look at life through the eyes of a child, even now sometimes, because the view is better? Do you curiously enter into conversations with people who are different from you so that you can understand them better? I believe the world would be a better place if more people studied Scout and learned to live like her! What do you think?