To Kill a Mockingbird
Several years ago I became fascinated with the person of Harper Lee, the author of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I have read her book three times in the last two years. This is not because the book is famous. This is not because the author became famous in 1960, the year I was born, when her one and only book was published. I didn’t read it just because the book club at the library read it the year of its 50th Anniversary in 2010. (I am not in that book club.)
I just remember seeing the book called “Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee” by Charles J. Shields on the shelf in the biography section at the library a couple of years ago. I picked it up and thumbed through it. I always read the flaps of hardback books before I even look through them, especially if I don’t know what they are about. Mockingbird? I honestly had no idea. The book flap’s first couple of sentences read this way:
“A lively portrait of the elusive woman who created
the American classic, To Kill a Mockingbird.
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD IS THE MOST WIDELY
read American novel ever.”
My first thought…really? I had never read this “most widely read American novel.” Where had I been all my life? What is more amazing is I don’t even remember ever hearing about this book or this author in all the years I was growing up in Decatur, Georgia. It was never required reading in any of my English classes, not even in college. My mother who was an avid reader of fiction never mentioned it to me. I have no idea if she ever read it herself. Then I thought, If that book is so great, why haven’t I ever read it? Then just as quickly…If I read this book now and love it, I am going to feel cheated. Oh well. Someday….maybe during the summer. I proceeded to put down the biography about Harper Lee and didn’t give the novel of “To Kill a Mockingbird” another thought until about two years ago.
It was about then that I was reading more fiction that dealt with issues about various matters: lifelong love, teen suicide, kidnapping, school bombings, raciscm, and death. There also aren’t very many books I have purposed to re-read just because I get lost in the story, love the characters, and envy the writing. In fact there are only two (okay, well, now three.)
The first book I have read at least five times is Nicholas Sparks’ novel The Notebook. I also own the movie. I have read and watched both multiple times. The theme of the intense love story and the way the couple stays together until they die is so incredible to me. Who doesn’t dream of that kind of love? I always have.
The second book I have read at least three times so far is The Help. I had never heard of it until I saw the movie in the theater. I loved the movie so much, I immediately bought the book. Of course the book was ten times better in my opinion, because of the many layers of the main characters, but the movie was done superbly! I own it as well as the book. What I love about it is not just the issue of racism, but the way the author makes her characters deal with it.
The book To Kill a Mockingbird is not just about racism, however. It is about family, right vs. wrong, honor, dignity, bigotry, hatred, and love. It is about how a little girl views the world around her, a little girl who is an inquisitive, feisty tomboy. Fortunately, she has a wonderful father who is patient enough to explain things to her on a level she can understand. Many parents don’t take time to just sit and answer a small child’s questions like Atticus Finch does with Scout. I always wished my own father had been like that; perhaps that is why I love Scout so much. She found her sense of security in her father. I found my sense of insecurity in mine.
I love how Harper Lee wrote the novel. She used two voices. She opens the book in the voice of Jean Louise Finch, the adult. She is looking back on her childhood as she narrates:
“When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.” (1)
However, when she begins to describe the day she and her brother meet Dill, the little girl Scout’s voice describes the event:
“Early one morning as we were beginning our day’s play in the back yard, Jem and I heard something next door in Miss Rachel Haverford’s collard patch. We went to the wire fence to see if there was a puppy–Miss Rachel’s rat terrier was expecting–instead we found someone sitting looking at us. Sitting down, he wasn’t much higher than the collards. We stared at him until he spoke:
‘Hey yourself,’ said Jem pleasantly.” (2)
So begins Jem and Scout’s new friendship with the next door neighbor, Dill, who only comes to visit his aunt in the summers. Though Harper Lee went back and forth between the main character’s adult and child voices, it was never confusing for me to follow. Her style has an easy flow. The manner in which her characters speak are in her own Southern voice since she is from Monroeville, Alabama. It is true to form. I know this
first-hand. I remember the summers when I was a child in the South. Every day seemed to last forever, because there was a great deal of play that needed to happen, and the adults seemed just fine with us kids out from underfoot as much as possible. We stayed outside, because there was no air conditioning in the houses, so it didn’t matter where we were: it was HOT. We went wading in the creek, swimming at the local pool, played ball and tag, and read books. Summer was a slow, easy time. Rainy days didn’t cool things off much, but they made mud puddles for us to jump in. Harper Lee conveys this image vividly when she says,
“Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired
old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather
the streets turned to a red slop; grass grew
on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square.” (3)
This is probably one of the most quoted sections of the novel, but it speaks to me, because I see my street in Georgia in my mind when I read it.
I believe To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the greatest works of fiction that has been written. Harper Lee showed her gift of writing with vivid word images, description, and character-building in this book. It doesn’t matter to me that she didn’t write another novel. She felt her work was done when she finished it. In my opinion, it definitely did not need a sequel.
1. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, First Perennial Classic edition publilshed 2002, page 3.
2. ibid., page 7
3. ibid., page 5
Photo Credit: Associated Press, New York Times
NELLE HARPER LEE: A BRIEF BIOGRAPHICAL PROFILE
Nelle Harper Lee was born on April 28, 1926, to Amasa Coleman Lee and Francis Cunningham Finch Lee, in Monroeville, Alabama. Her parents married in 1910 and settled in Monroeville in 1924. Nelle had three older siblings: Louise, Edwin, and Alice. Her sister Louise married and had a family. Her brother Edwin died at the age of 30 from a brain hemorrhage. Alice, the eldest, became a lawyer like her father and worked with him at his firm all her life. Nelle was in law school until she decided that being a lawyer was not for her. She wanted to write books.
In 1949, much to her parents’ dismay, she decided to move to New York City. She was 23 years old. The first job she found there was in a bookstore. “A bookstore was barely within the orbit of the literary world, but at least she would meet writers there. Or so she thought.” (1) Eventually Nelle discovered that her job didn’t pay enough. It barely covered her rent and food. In 1950 she went to work for Eastern Airlines. Her job required that she join the union which improved her salary substantially.
While she worked for the airlines, she spent her evenings writing and occasionally socializing with her good friend, Truman Capote, whom she had known since childhood. He had been left in Alabama when he was a small child by his mother for some time to be raised by his aunts. He lived next door to Nelle for several years. Eventually, he was picked up by his mother and moved to New York. When they were young, Nelle and Truman became fast friends, much like the characters Dill and Scout did in To Kill a Mockingbird. However, contrary to popular belief that she based her character, Dill, on Truman Capote, Nelle says this about the characters in her book in an interview she did in 1963 for a Chicago Press reporter:
REPORTER: “Were the characters in the book based on real people?”
MISS LEE: “No, but the people at home think so. The beauty of it, though, is that no two people come up with the same identification. They never think of themselves as being portrayed in the book. They try to identify others whom they know as characters.”
You can read the full interview here: http://web.archive.org/web/20070701015703/http://www.chebucto.ns.ca/culture/HarperLee/ellison.html
Nelle was a tomboy as a child. She was known as “a fearsome stomach-puncher, foot-stomper and hair-puller…” (2) Similarly her character Scout says in chapter three, “Catching Walter Cunningham in the shcoolyard gave me some pleasure, but when I was rubbing his nose in the dirt, Jem came by and told me to stop.” (3) Charles J. Shields says about Nelle Harper Lee in his biography, Mockingbird, “Once, three boys tried to challenge her, charging her individually, like kinghts galloping toward her. Each ended up facedown, spitting gravel, and crying, ‘Uncle!’ within moments.” (4)
Nelle was never a “girly” girl. She didn’t like to dress up when she was young. In her younger years she wore mostly pants and casual shirts and sometimes skirt outfits. Her hair is usually in a short wash-and-go style, and she’s not known for wearing make-up.
In college, she enjoyed athletics and was often seen hanging out with groups of boys. Many people there thought she came across more masculine than feminine. Cussing and smoking were two of her trademarks. I don’t know if they still are. She was not part of any specific group of girls. More often than not, she was seen as a loner, spending more time in her dorm room and the library than out socializing or dating. However, this was how she preferred to spend a great deal of her time – alone – reading, studying, and writing.
Yet, in her hometown in Alabama, contrary to her reputation, she has not been known as a “recluse.” Her closest friends have helped protect her from being bombarded by fans of her book through the years, because she enjoys her privacy. However, she has always been friendly and sensitive to others’ needs. She never seemed to be bothered about trying to “fit in”; she did her own thing, which obviously has made her happy.
These things I have mentioned about Nelle Harper Lee – her tomboyish ways, her sensitivity, and her love for reading and writing – are things that have always been pointed out about me from others throughout my own life. Growing up in the South in the 1960s as I did, I had the impression that these qualities were sometimes looked down on by other girls and some women I knew who saw themselves as more “proper.” As a child I thought that women were supposed to be more concerned about learning to cook and sew (both of which I hated) than writing stories or having your nose in a book like I did. I have always thought of myself as a tomboy.
All of my life I have never been one who liked wearing dresses. I hated it when I was a kid and my mother put rollers in my hair, to give me curls that never felt natural, for special occasions like my piano recitals or choir performances at school. I loved playing outside all the time, and I liked playing ball and riding bikes with boys much more than playing dolls or dress-up with girls. I enjoyed being a tomboy, because it was how I felt most comfortable. I liked getting dirty! I haven’t changed! Even now when I have to dress decent to make all my trips to town, as soon as I get home, I take off my shoes, get into my sweats, and breathe in the comfort of home.
Most likely I will never meet Nelle Harper Lee, but I feel like she and Scout have become “kindred spirits” to me. I have enjoyed reading her one great novel and learning about her very much! I have also enjoyed reading the biography Mockingbird, A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields as well. I have found Harper Lee to be a wise and wonderful treasure of a woman.
1. Shields, Charles J., Mockingbird, A Potrait of Harper Lee. New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC., 2006, pg. 19.
2. ibid, pg. 32.
3. Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird, First Perennial Classic edition. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2002, pg. 25.
4. Shields, Charles J., Mockingbird, A Potrait of Harper Lee. New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC., 2006, pg. 32.
Scene from the movie, To Kill a Mockingbird with Mary Badham as Scout and Gregory Peck as Atticus
The first character I want to focus on in To Kill a Mockingbird is Jean Louise Finch or Scout, as she is nicknamed. She is by far my very favorite character in the book perhaps for the main reason that she is such a beloved tomboy. I only hope you love her as much as I do. I may take more than one post to focus on her. She is complex in a way, because she does not think like the average six year old.
Scout is a keen observer. She notices people’s actions and personalities. She observes her surroundings, thinks about what she sees and hears, forms her own opinions, and speaks her thoughts and feelings as she sees fit. Sometimes this gets her in trouble even though I think she is genuine when she tries to help people such as her teacher, Miss Caroline Fisher, and her classmate Walter Cunningham.
In the second chapter of To Kill a Mockingbird Scout is beginning first grade. We are told she is turning six. Jem is four years older than she is and going in fifth grade. What I want to focus on today is what I think is one of the funniest parts in the novel. In fact, the other day I was reading chapters two and three at the bookstore and beginning to write this post when I almost had to refrain from laughing out loud several times! Harper Lee is a master at showing us Scout’s curious nature and her struggle to understand the new people she encounters.
The adult, Jean Louise, begins telling us the story of her first day of school by reminiscing about how she felt one winter day about the prospect of going to school in the fall. Sitting up in a treehouse, she spies on Jem (through a telescope he gave her) as he plays in the schoolyard below. She is desiring to join the playing children. Since he is her only sibling, I imagine she feels lonely without him during the day when he is gone, so she imagines school being fun and feels anxious to get started.
What transpires on her first day, however, is not what she had imagined on that winter day in the treehouse. First, when Jem walks her to school and shows her around, she concludes that Atticus must have bribed him to take care of her, because Jem instructs her not to bother him during the school day. Scout tells us, “I was to stick with the first grade and he would stick with the fifth. In short, I was to leave him alone.” (1)
The next thing that puzzles Scout is Miss Caroline, her teacher. She reads a strange story to the class which tells about cats who talk and wear clothes. Scout thinks this teacher does not understand the minds of children in Maycomb. She certainly doesn’t read this kind of stuff at home with Atticus. She sits on his lap at night and reads the local newspaper with him. In class she sits and thinks about how she can’t remember a time when she wasn’t reading. Jem told her she was born reading. What I find humorous here, however, is what is going through Scout’s mind while Miss Caroline reads the story.
Scout believes Miss Caroline is “unaware that the ragged, denim-shirted and floursack-skirted first grade, most of whom had chopped cotton and fed hogs from the time they were able to walk, were immune to imaginative literature.” (2)
She is so bored she begins to write a letter to her friend, Dill, but when caught by Miss Caroline, she gets scolded for writing! She isn’t supposed to know how to write yet; she is supposed to be learning how to print in first grade. Writing isn’t learned until third grade according to Miss Caroline.
By the end of the day Scout is feeling like her teacher should have been nicer to her. She doesn’t understand why Miss Caroline couldn’t reason with her the way Atticus does. In her mind all she was trying to do was help her teacher and a fellow student, Walter, who has lied about forgetting his lunch. Scout tries to tell Miss Caroline that he is a Cunningham and can’t borrow a quarter from her to buy a lunch, because his family doesn’t take things they can’t pay back. Instead of the teacher being grateful for Scout’s enlightening her to Maycomb’s ways, where she herself does not live, she smacks Scout’s hand with a ruler and is told to stand in the corner for all of her disruptions.
In the midst of her punishment Scout is rescued by the bell. As she leaves her corner of the room, she stands at the classroom door for a moment noticing how despondent her teacher has become. Scout watches her sink down in her chair and thinks to herself “Had her conduct been more friendly toward me, I would have felt sorry for her. She was a pretty little thing.” (3) So on this funny note chapter two ends.
Chapter three opens with Scout attacking Walter Cunningham in the schoolyard, because she thinks he caused her to “…start off on the wrong foot” (4) with the teacher. Jem tells her to leave him alone and invites him to dinner at their house. This mortifies Scout, and she gets more scolding from Calpurnia at home for being rude to him about pouring syrup all over his plate of food while he’s there.
By the end of her long day of frustrations and scolding, Scout is feeling apprehensive about reading with Atticus like she usually does. He notices her mood and proceeds to find out about how badly her first day at school went when she tells him she doesn’t want to go back. She learns that she has to go back, because Atticus can’t teach her full-time; he has to work. This is when he tells her something that becomes a significant theme in the novel.
“First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view-”
“-until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” (5)
So begins Scout’s journey towards learning how to see things through the eyes of others and put herself in their shoes before she makes snap judgments about them. So begins her journey in growing up.
Until next Monday, have a wonderful week, and give someone you love a big hug.
Y’all come back now, ya hear?
- To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, First Perennial Classic edition, Harper Collins Publishers, 2002, pg. 18
- ibid, pg. 18
- ibid, pg. 24
- ibid, pg. 25
- ibid, pg. 33
I am beside myself with mixed feelings of apprehension and excitement at the news of the publication of Harper Lee’s new novel, Go Set a Watchman, coming out this July. I am stunned at the news to say the least. I don’t expect her to be doing any interviews since she is in an assisted living facility now. She is in her late eighties, deaf, and blind. Her sister Alice just passed away a few months ago, and she has a different lawyer handling all of her affairs. Yet, regarding the novel itself, my head is full of questions about how she handled the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird as it has been said that the new novel is a “sequel” to her first one. From what I can gather from articles I have read, though, Go Set a Watchman was her first novel that her publisher had her revise until it became To Kill a Mockingbird. Apparently her editor wanted her to focus mostly on Scout’s childhood. So it will be very interesting to see how Scout turns out as an adult. I hope she is still just as feisty as she was as a little girl!
Here are a couple of links to articles I have found about the new book. There are many, many more. All you have to do is google her name!
I feel excited about the new novel, because the timing couldn’t be more perfect for me personally. I am so into everything about the novel and the person of Harper Lee right now, but you already knew that! I am curious to see who the characters have become twenty years later. Scout would be about 28 years old. What has she done with her life? Did she become a lawyer like Atticus but unlike Harper Lee in real life? Wouldn’t it be interesting if Scout became a writer or a teacher?
What has Jem become – a lawyer, an artist, or an engineer? These are the suggestions of what he could become according to Atticus when Jem built his first snowman in To Kill a Mockingbird. The possibilities of where Harper Lee has taken the characters are endless, of course. Since Atticus is still in the story, he would be elderly now. What is his health like? Does Scout leave Maycomb earlier in her life then go back to visit him? Does this cause the adult Scout to reminisce about what else happened in her and Jem’s childhoods after the incident with Bob Ewell?
On the other hand, the reason I feel apprehensive about it is because I have always thought of To Kill a Mockingbird as such a unique book simply because of the fact that it was the only book Harper Lee ever published. The prospect that this is going to change somehow sets me off kilter a little bit. If this is one of your most beloved novels, how do you feel about it?
You see, I have never thought there needed to be a sequel for To Kill a Mockingbird contrary to popular opinion. It seems that people have felt disappointed that there never was one, though. I admit after I read it for myself for the first time last year, I also wondered why such a talented writer never published another book. Like Harper Lee, though, I felt like her novel was a complete story and didn’t need anything else. It was her business as to why she didn’t publish another one. However, when I have entertained the idea (just for fun) of what I would hope to see happen if there ever were a sequel, these were my thoughts:
1. I would want to see Scout and Jem’s childhood continue with their friend Dill in flashbacks.
2. I would want to see Jem’s reaction the first time he meets Arthur “Boo” Radley, his “savior” from getting killed by Bob Ewell.
3. I would want to see what happens to Bob’s daughter, Mayella, who lied on the witness stand about being raped by Tom Robinson and see how she is going to get along without her daddy.
Yet, I am content for all of that to be left up to my imagination. I absolutely love the ending of the book. I have never yearned for more. Who’s to say that any of my questions will be answered in the new novel anyway? It sounds like it will be a whole new story from one of the greatest storytellers I’ve ever read.
I will say, though, that when I heard about the second novel, the questions in my head were What happens to Boo? Do the kids become friends with him? Does he come outside during the day now? I sure hope the character of Arthur Radley is developed more than he was in To Kill a Mockingbird. However, I love the way she used his character to create so much mystery. That was exciting! Besides Scout, Boo is my very favorite character. I thought it was so fitting that Scout was the one who got to see him and talk with him at the end of the book. In her sensitivity to those around her, with her keen observational skills, she notices his curiosity about Jem after he is brought home and the doctor has seen him. So Scout takes Arthur inside to see Jem while he is asleep and tells him he can pet him since he’s asleep. Then when Arthur is ready to go, he asks Scout to take him home. I love his gesture of friendship that reciprocates hers. I might feel a little bit disappointed if it doesn’t happen, but what I want is for Arthur to be able to become better friends with Scout, Jem, Atticus, and Dill. I want him to come out and play, so to speak.
Lastly, I only hope Harper Lee hasn’t been taken advantage of in all of this. To make a long post even longer if you care to read another article, here ya go.
DILL, THE BOY NEXT DOOR
The character from To Kill a Mockingbird I would like to focus on today is Dill, the rascally boy who lives next door to Scout and Jem, but only during the summers. His parents drop him off at his Aunt Rachel’s to stay for the summer every year.
In an earlier post I quoted Harper Lee from one of the few interviews she did after her book came out saying that none of her characters were based on real people even though some people she knew thought they were. Dill is the character whom her friend in real life, Truman Capote, claimed he was.
I have to say after the biographical reading I have done about Truman Capote, I do see many similarities myself! He was left at a relative’s home who really did live next door to Harper Lee when they were children. They did play together, wrote and shared stories together, and became lifelong friends. Truman Capote was known as a sissy boy when he was young, he was beat up at school, and Harper Lee even defended him at times.
Very early in the novel, Harper Lee tells us about the “summertime boundaries (within calling distance of Calpurnia)” (1) that Scout and Jem have for playing outside. She mentions Mrs. Dubose, who was “plain hell,” (2) and the Radley Place which “was inhabited by an unknown entity the mere description of whom was enough to make us behave for days on end.” (3) I find it incredible the way Harper Lee could choose just the right few words to punch us in the face with such vivid images! She sets up the mystery of Boo Radley this early and carries him through the whole novel until who he is finally gets revealed.
What I love the most, though, is how she introduces Dill. After she tells us that “Mrs. Dubose was plain hell,” she makes this simple statement.
“That was the summer Dill came to us.” (4)
I think this statement is filled with so much tenderness. It seems to put forth one of Scout’s fondest memories of making a new friend. This is how she and Jem find him.
They are playing in the back yard when they hear what Scout thinks is a puppy. However, when she and Jem go to the wire fence to investigate, they find something they are not expecting. This is what she tells us: “instead we found someone sitting looking at us. Sitting down, he wasn’t much higher than the collards. We stared at him until he spoke:
Dill boldly informs them that he is Charles Baker Harris, he’s almost seven, he can read, and he says, “I’m little, but I’m old.” (6)
Then Scout informs us that she is much bigger than he is and describes him as a tow-headed, blue-eyed boy who “wore blue linen shorts that buttoned to his shirt,” (7) and “habitually pulled at the cowlick in the center of his forehead.”(8) Now if you have ever seen any pictures of Truman Capote when he was about that age, this description of Dill is a strong resemblance to him. So perhaps, as people have believed for years, Harper Lee did put a little Truman into her Dill character.
After Dill introduces himself, Jem says his name, Charles Baker Harris, is “longer ‘n you are. Bet it’s a foot longer.” (9). Dill comes back at Jem with “ ’s not any funnier ‘n yours. Aunt Rachel says your name’s Jeremy Atticus Finch.” (10) Jem just retaliates by telling Dill that at least his name fits him which is an obvious dig on Dill’s lack of height.
What I love is how Harper Lee shows why Dill is so proud and bold. He knows he’s small, so he feels like he has to be outspoken and smarter than everyone else to make up for it.
So the three kids become friends quickly. However, this contest of names between the boys indicates how this newfound friendship is going to go. Jem is bigger and older; he is going to be the boss.
During the second summer Dill comes to them, Jem catches him in a lie about his Daddy. Scout tells us:
“Dill Harris could tell the biggest ones I ever heard. Among other things he had been up in a mail plane seventeen times, he had been to Nova Scotia, he had seen an elephant, and his granddaddy was Brigadier General Joe Wheeler and left him his sword.” (11)
By this time Scout and Jem know he is full of tall tales, but they accept him for who he is. Dill is the only friend that is ever mentioned who they play with in the summers.
I like Scout’s ambivalent feelings towards him. She is torn over how she feels about him following Jem everywhere. She refers to him as “a trial.” Scout doesn’t like the fact that someone else is getting some of the attention she is used to getting from her big brother. She loves Jem, but of course they still fight like most brothers and sisters do at times. So she doesn’t like the way Dill begins to try and boss her around with Jem either. I think it makes her feel more defensive.
On the other hand, she likes Dill and the attention he pays to her as well since she’s a girl. He tells her she’s the only girl he’ll ever love, makes her feel wanted when he tells her he wants to marry her someday, but then he neglects her. She says, “I beat him up twice but it did no good, he only grew closer to Jem.” (12)
One morning she catches the boys conspiring together without her about something, and Dill gets really bossy with her. She fires back at him, “You act like you grew ten inches in the night! All right, what is it?” (13)
Giving in easily, Scout decides she doesn’t want to miss out on anything fun they are cooking up. When she learns that they are plotting about how to give Boo Radley a note asking him what he does in his house and to come out sometimes, Scout yells at them, “You all’ve gone crazy, he’ll kill us!” (14)
Finally, the scene I love with Dill most is when he is found underneath Scout’s bed one night after she and Jem have had a knock-down-drag-out fight. They each go to their rooms to go to bed when Scout realizes something is under her bed. She asks Jem what a snake feels like. He grabs a broom and swipes it under the bed when he realizes someone not something is under there. Jem barely misses Dill’s head with the broom when he comes out. Scout and Jem are shocked. They inquire about how he arrived there, and he tells them he ran away, but he doesn’t want to go to his Aunt’s house next door. He has run away from his parents in Meridian where, going into another tall tale, he says they have had him chained up in the basement.
After Jem tells Atticus about discovering Dill, Atticus feeds him, and Jem tells Dill he needs to let his parents know where he is which is a very grown-up and responsible way for Jem to react to the situation. So Atticus lets his Aunt Rachel know where Dill is, and after a scolding from her, he is allowed to spend the night at the Finch’s.
Then comes my favorite insight into why Dill is the way he is. A while after all the kids are in bed, Scout is woken up by Dill who wants to sleep with her instead of in Jem’s room. He gets in bed beside her and they start talking.
Scout inquires as to why he ran away and learns that his new father promised to do things with him and spend time with him, but then never did. Dill concludes that his parents just aren’t interested in him. They buy him whatever he wants, but then they tell him to go off and play. He feels unwanted and ignored.
Scout tries to comfort Dill by telling him that she had been thinking about running off that night, too. She tells him that he doesn’t really want the adults in his life around all the time. Then she realizes as she’s listening to him that his parents and Atticus couldn’t do without either of them. They are needed. Dill doesn’t believe it, though, because he goes on to tell Scout how his parents tell him he’s not a boy. He needs to be outside playing games with other boys, not hanging around the house with them.
Dill switches gears in the conversation, though, and tells Scout they should get a baby. He is indicating that he still loves her and wants to marry her. As they are drifting off to sleep, however, Scout asks a poignant question:
“Why do you reckon Boo Radley’s never run off?”
Dill sighed a long sigh and turned away from me.
“Maybe he doesn’t have anywhere to run off to…” (15)
Dill, the sad summer boy next door that Scout grows to love is welcomed into the Finch family, loved, and accepted. No wonder he never wants to go home.
1. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, First Perennial Classic edition, Harper Collins Publishers, 2002, pg. 7
2. ibid., pg. 7
3. ibid., pg. 7
4. ibid., pg. 7
5. ibid., pg. 7
6. ibid., pg. 7
7. ibid., pg. 8
8. ibid., pg. 8
9. ibid., pg. 7
10. ibid., pg. 7
11. ibid., pg.53
12. ibid., pg.46
13. ibid., pg.51
14. ibid., pg. 52
15. ibid., pg. 163
BIG BROTHER JEM
Hello and welcome back to Mockingbird Mondays. Today I want to talk about Scout’s big brother, Jem. Yes, it is spelled right. It is short for Jeremy, his full name being Jeremy Atticus Finch. Before I read this book I had never seen or heard of anyone named Jeremy being called Jem. I also think it is especially fitting that his middle name is Atticus, after his father since all through the book he’s trying to figure out who Atticus is. Jem ages from ten to thirteen in the novel, the years when most boys are watching their dads closely and silently trying to learn how to be a man.
For example, one night when Miss Maudie’s house catches on fire, Atticus tells Jem to go take Scout down the street and stay with her. Atticus expects Jem to take care of his sister which he does. When Scout starts fretting, we read, “Jem put his arm around me. ‘Hush, Scout,’ he said, ‘It ain’t time to worry yet. I’ll let you know when.'” (1)-pg. 78. Later during all the commotion Jem points to Atticus and tells her, “See there, he’s not worried yet, said Jem.” (2)–pg. 79. His and Scout’s comfort comes from Atticus’s reaction to the situation.
On another day when Atticus gets talked into shooting a rabid dog, Jem is dumbfounded. He has no idea that in the past his dad was known as “One-Shot Finch.” He learns that Mr. Tate and Miss Maudie knew about it, but Jem seems to feel hurt that Atticus never told him and Scout that he could shoot a gun that well. All he has ever known is that Atticus has never wanted anything to do with guns. As Jem watches this event unfold before his eyes, he is amazed at how the gun seems to become part of Atticus. Jem tells Scout that in comparison to Atticus, he has “to aim for ten minutes ‘fore I can hit somethin’.” (3)-pg.111.
Jem has a short temper, especially with Scout. One day he and Scout and Dill decide to play with a tire in the street. Scout gets rolled down the hill in it first. It rolls right into Boo Radley’s front yard. Scout is disoriented when it first hits the house. Jem is screaming at her to get up and get the tire. As she begins walking back without the tire, he says, “Bring it with you! Ain’t you got any sense at all?” (4) pg. 42.
He gets downright cantankerous with her at times. When he and Dill decide to try to see Boo Radley through his window, her fear causes her to plead with him not to go. As she follows him and Dill down the street in the dark begging him not to go, he becomes so frustrated he turns on her and says, “Scout, I’m tellin’ you for the last time, shut your trap or go home-I declare to the Lord you’re gettin’ more like a girl every day!” (5)- pg. 58. These remarks insult her since she prides herself on being as little like a girl as possible. I think he insults her because she is worrying over him, but deep down I believe he appreciates her concern for his safety. He struggles with his feelings, though, because he still thinks of her as more of a buddy than a sister, someone he can boss around and talk down to whenever he feels like it.
His affection for her is most evident when he shares his trunk of treasures with her where he keeps all of the things Boo Radley has left for them in the tree before the knothole gets cemented over.
Another aspect of Jem’s character is his superstitious nature. He makes many off-handed comments about all of the things he believes when he is with Scout and Dill. For instance, when he finds out Scout is chewing gum she found in the knothole of the Radley tree, he tells her she could get killed just from touching the trees in that yard.
When he finds the Indian heads he tells Scout they come from Indians, so they are valuable. “They’re real strong magic, they make you have good luck.” (6) – pg. 40
Another time he tells Dill about “hot steams.” He says, “A Hot Steam is somebody who can’t get to heaven, just wallows around on lonesome roads an’ if you walk through him, when you die you’ll be one, too, an’ you’ll go around at night suckin’ people’s breath.” (7) – pg. 41. I seem to recall hearing when I was a kid that if you walked through a cold spot, it was a ghost. To this day this is what I think of whenever I feel one!
Lastly, I love the way Scout describes how Jem is changing as he grows older. She opens Chapter 12 in Part Two of the novel saying, “Jem was twelve. He was difficult to live with, inconsistent, moody.” (8) – pg.131. Scout doesn’t like how Jem goes off by himself more and doesn’t want her around as much. She tells Calpurnia, “All he needs is somebody to beat him up, and I ain’t big enough.” (9) – pg. 131. The irony in this is that even though Scout knows she isn’t big enough to beat Jem up, she sure as hell tries to when he tells her to stop antagonizing their Aunt! She’s spunky and never afraid of Jem!
When the trial ends and Tom Robinson is found guilty even though he is innocent, Jem is so upset about it that Scout tells us,
“It was Jem’s turn to cry. His face was streaked with angry tears as we made our way through the cheerful crowd. ‘It ain’t right,’ he muttered, all the way to the corner of the square where we found Atticus waiting… Then we are told that when the kids reach Atticus Jem says,
‘It ain’t right, Atticus,’ said Jem.
‘No, son, it’s not right.’” (10) – pg. 242
Atticus validates Jem. Many times throughout the novel Atticus takes time to explain things to both of the kids so they are not in the dark about why people think the way they do. By the end of the novel I think Jem has grown up quite a bit for a young boy. I think Jem must become a wonderful man just like his father.
Footnotes #1-10 all from To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, First Perennial Classic edition, Harper Collins Publishers, 2002.
Hello and welcome back to Mockingbird Mondays. I hope you have been enjoying these tidbits of my take on To Kill a Mockingbird.
Today, I want to talk about Atticus Finch, the father of Scout and Jem, in the novel. He has many admirable qualities: his honesty, his love for his children, and his fine work ethics. However, the quality I love the most about Atticus is his choice to treat ALL people with respect and dignity. He is not prejudiced against the blacks in his community. He doesn’t have a problem with how Calpurnia, his black housekeeper, has helped raise his children. She is allowed to discipline them right alongside of Atticus when they need it. He even allows them to go to her church one Sunday when he is out of town.
When Atticus’s sister, Alexandria, temporarily moves in with him to help him with the children during the trial of Tom Robinson, she tries to tell Atticus that they don’t need Calpurnia any more. We are told:
“Atticus’s voice was even: ‘Alexandria, Calpurnia’s not leaving this house until she wants to. You may think otherwise, but I couldn’t have got along without her all those years. She’s a faithful member of this family and you’ll simply have to accept things the way they are. Besides, sister, I don’t want you working your head off for us – you’ve no reason to do that. We still need Cal as much as we ever did.'”
Then she says, “But Atticus–” (pg. 155) And Atticus goes on to tell her that Cal doesn’t let the kids get away with anything and is harder on them than he is sometimes. Most of all, he points out that she is loved by the children.
When Scout questions him about why he is defending a negro, Atticus tells her that if he didn’t, he would feel like he coudn’t tell her and Jem what to do anymore, he couldn’t be a lawyer in their town or even hold his head up in town. Scout catches on that if Atticus didn’t defend Tom, she and Jem wouldn’t have to obey him; they would lose their respect for him. This confuses her for a moment, but then she finds out that Atticus knows he is not going to win the trial. Yet in his mind, defending Tom Robinson is what he chooses to do simply because he believes it is the right thing to do. In the midst of this conversation, Atticus tells Scout,
“No matter what anybody says to you, don’t let ’em get your goat. Try fighting with your head for a change…it’s a good one, even if it does resist learning.” (pg. 87) I can just see him in my head smiling and maybe even winking at Scout as he says this.
Personally, I don’t think Atticus treats Scout and Jem like adults. He knows they are children, but he takes time to answer their questions and explain things to them that most parents probably didn’t do in the 1930’s. Some parents don’t even do this today. This is why he is such a strong character. He is always thinking about how others think and feel. This is why he can tell Scout to put herself in another’s place so she can understand them better. Atticus even shows respect to his neighbor, Mrs. Dubose, even though she is old and cranky and calls his children names. They don’t like her at all, but they see how he still greets her and tips his hat to her when he walks by her house. She yells at him, too, but he still greets her with kindness. The most wonderful thing he does for her, though, is stay at her bedside all night while she slowly passes away.
Atticus can even take someone’s hatred towards him. After the trial, when Tom is found guilty of rape and sentenced to die for his crime, Atticus goes to visit Tom’s wife and family to tell them he plans to appeal the verdict. When he come’s out of the house, Bob Ewell is waiting for him and spits in his face. Atticus simply looks at him and wipes his face, then walks away. This takes a lot of wisdom and self-control. He doesn’t give Bob the satisfaction of reacting to this blatant display of misplaced disgust. Why does Bob do this to Atticus if his daughter, Mayella, won the trial? Atticus believes it is because he had wounded Bob’s pride when he showed the community how ignorant Bob is. He proved that there was no way Tom could have raped Mayella, and this causes Bob to become even more embittered. Bob had been put in his place publicly and hated Atticus for it. That’s why he gets drunk and attacks Jem later.
The last thing I want to say about Atticus is that I think he is the ideal father. Some have criticized his character for this saying they think he is too perfect. Well, maybe so, but many of us wish we had had a father who listened to our every question, showed interest in what we thought, and just took us on his lap and loved on us the way he does with Scout and Jem. What is so funny to me, though, is how Scout sees him. She respects him, but she also tests him when she starts cussing to try and get out of going to school. She wants him to think the other kids are a bad influence on her. What does he do? He ignores it, because he believes she will do it even more if she gets any attention over it. Does this parenting technique always work? Sometimes. However, when she cusses at her uncle’s house, he talks to her about it and tells her he doesn’t like those words. So she respects her uncle and stops.
Scout and Jem think Atticus is old. Jem wants to play ball in the yard with him more, but Atticus tells him he’s too old. So they think he is, because this is how Atticus sees himself. One of my favorite lines in the book is the opening of Chapter 10.
“Atticus was feeble; he was nearly fifty. When Jem and I asked him why he was so old, he said he got started late, which we felt reflected upon his abilities and manliness.” (pg. 103) Then she goes on to talk about how he doesn’t do anything like farm, work in the garage, work in a drugstore or drive a dump-truck. She says, “He did not do the things our schoolmates’ fathers did: he never went hunting, he did not play poker or fish or drink or smoke. He sat in the livingroom and read.” (pgs. 102-103)
To me, this is one of the strongest things about Atticus. He is a learned man. He and his brother learned at home, and he became a lawyer. He is smart, cunning and wise. It is because of him that Scout learns to read so early. He shares his favorite interest with her every night as she sits on his lap and reads the paper with him.
Harper Lee must have had a wonderful father if her character of Atticus is modeled after him!
All quotes are from To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, First Perennial Classic edition, Harper Collins Publishers, 2002.
ARTHUR “BOO” RADLEY
Hello and welcome back to Mockingbird Mondays. Today I want to conclude my writings about the book “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. I want to end the writing today, however, I MAY be doing a few portraits of the actors who portrayed the characters in the movie, such as Robert Duvall who played Arthur “Boo” Radley. I don’t want to promise that this is what I’m going to do, though, because after the week I have had, I don’t know if I am going to have the energy for i! We’ll see.
So…moving on. I love this last character of the book that I am going to write about today so much – Arthur “Boo” Radley, the mysterious neighbor that the kids practically obsess over. Do you remember ever having a neighbor who was a recluse or perhaps strange, someone you may have even been afraid of when you were a child? I remember having some strange neighbors in all of the neighborhoods I grew up in, but not any that were quite this elusive.
I enjoy the way Harper Lee slowly introduces us to the character of Boo. All throughout the novel we hear about him through the imaginations of Scout, Jem and Dill. Very early in the novel Dill wonders what Boo looks like. Scout narrates to us,
“Jem gave a reasonable description of Boo: Boo was about six-and-a-half feet tall, judging from his tracks; he dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch, that’s why his hands were bloodstained — if you ate an animal raw, you could never wash the blood off. There was a long jagged scar that ran across his face; what teeth he had were yellow and rotten; his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time.” (1) – (pg. 14)
This so characterizes how wild the imaginations of children can be! I remember being a kid and thinking this way. She captures the nature of childhood so well here.
Then Dill says, “Let’s try to make him come out,”…”I’d like to see what he looks like.” (2) – (pg. 14)
So this is how Harper Lee sets up part of the plot in the novel – the kids trying to get Boo to “come out.” It creates a great deal of mystery and humor all the way to the end of the book. It gives the kids something to focus on while they are having to deal with the trial of Tom Robinson and all of the stress it brings to the town.
When the kids are bored one day trying to think of something to play, Jem announces that they are going to play something new and different: Boo Radley. Scout objects to having to play Mrs. Radley, and Dill thinks she is too scared to play. We see what Scout has come to believe in her short life:
“‘He can get out at night when we’re all asleep…’ I said.” (3) – (pg. 43) She perceives that Jem thought the game up to prove he is brave and she is a coward. She thinks to herself, “I was fairly sure Boo Radley was inside that house, but I couldn’t prove it,…” (4) – (pg. 43)
In contrast, “Jem hissed, ‘Scout, how’s he gonna know what we’re doin’? Besides, I don’t think he’s still there. He died years ago and they stuffed him up the chimney.”(5) – (pg. 43)
I like the way Harper Lee uses the word hissed to describe how Jem talks to Scout. This conveys his ongoing frustration he seems to feel whenever she is hesitant to do anything he wants her to do.
As Scout goes on narrating about how the game will be played, she says, “Jem, naturally, was Boo: he went under the front steps and shrieked and howled from time to time.” (6) – (pg. 43)
This tells us how the kids imagined Arthur Radley – like a wild animal who only comes out at night. They believed he walked the streets and looked into people’s windows while they were sleeping. After watching the movie a while back the scene in the novel and the movie, when Boo has rescued the kids and brought them home, struck me differently. Boo is sitting on the porch with Scout in the swing. After the conversation where Mr. Tate and Atticus decide not to charge him with the murder of Bob Ewell, Arthur gets up and looks in the window at Jem sleeping in his bed. Personally, I think this may have been a humorous play by Harper Lee on how the kids have already been imagining what Boo does while he’s out at night. It is adorable the way that Scout is so sensitive to Arthur, perceiving that he wants to go see Jem. I especially like that they included this scene in the movie.
This brings me to another point. Boo only comes out at night, so that is why the kids never see him. Miss Maudie’s house caught on fire during the night, and it was Boo who put a blanket around Scout while she stood in front of his house, but she never saw him. Arthur’s choice to only walk the streets at night seems to be because this is when he is most comfortable outside – when everyone else is inside. One thing I learned is that Robert Duvall purposely stayed out of the sun for many weeks in order to become very pale, and even dyed his hair very light to play Boo. He wanted the first time we actually SEE Boo to be sort of shocking. In the movie he has dark circles under his eyes, and looks scary, but he is hiding behind Jem’s bedroom door. He appears terrified when Scout discovers him. And the line that always makes me cry at this point in the book and the movie is when Scout simply says, Hey, Boo even though she has never seen him. In the novel she describes him as thin-framed, his hands and face as white, his cheeks as hollow, his mouth wide, and his gray eyes so colorless that she thought he was blind. I think as Scout stands and really looks at Arthur, she takes all of his appearance in. She is not afraid, but curious. She feels his fear. Yet she sees that he is truly harmless. So she tells us,
“His lips parted into a timid smile, and our neighbor’s image blurred with my sudden tears. ‘Hey, Boo,’ I said.” – (7) – pg. 310. I believe this is the climax of the novel and the movie. Harper Lee spends the next two chapters in the novel telling us about the time that Arthur spends on Scout’s front porch while Heck Tate and Atticus decide his fate. Mr. Tate thinks it is best to let things be and tell everyone that Bob Ewell fell on his on knife and died. He is adamant about it and says he can even prove it. After more conversation, we see the reason that Heck Tate fights Atticus so hard on this issue. Mr. Tate says,
“To my way of thinkin’, Mr. Finch, taking the one man who’s done you and this town a great service an’ draggin’ him with his shy ways into the limelight – to me, that’s a sin. It’s a sin and I’m not about to have it on my head. If it was any other man it’d be different. But not this man, Mr. Finch.” (8) – (pg. 317)
Even Scout understands what Mr. Tate means. She tells Atticus that Mr. Tate is right and says,
“Well, it’d be sort of like shootin’ a mockingbird, wouldn’t it?” (9) – (pg. 317)
Atticus finally hears through Scout what Mr. Tate has been trying to tell him. So he thanks Arthur for his children.
Then Arthur asks Scout to walk him home. I love this so very much – a child and an adult whose roles are swapped – the child taking care of the adult. When Boo goes in the house, Scout tells us that she never saw him again. She says:
“Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies, and our lives. But neighbors give in return. We never put back into the tree what we took out of it: we had given him nothing, and it made me sad.” (10) – (pg. 320)
So, Arthur “Boo” Radley turns out to be the opposite of what Scout and the boys had been imagining. Instead of frightening, he is afraid. Instead of a giant, he is an average-sized, timid man. Scout sees that he is shy, nervous, uncomfortable in the light of her house, and just needs a lot of understanding. He is comfortable being alone at night; it causes him to be watchful. He is a man who courageously steps forward to help those who have been afraid of him, because he knows they cannot help themselves.
Footnotes 1-10 from: To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, First Perennial Classic edition, Harper Collins Publishers, 2002.