To Kill a Mockingbird and the small town South

I wrote this piece, To Kill a Mockingbird and the small town South, as a guest post for Urszula’s blog, Confessions of a Broccoli Addict. Today, I post it here, in memory of Harper Lee, who has died at the age of 89.

Thank you, Harper Lee, for your stories. Thank you for Scout and Jem and Atticus and Calpurnia and Boo. Thank you, thank you.



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  1. TKAM is my favorite novel. Nothing can beat it in my book. I also read GSAW upon its release last year. I haven’t written about that because I want to re-read it before passing judgment. I did enjoy it and want out off by the portrayal of a different Atticus.

    Funny that I also wrote about TKAM for Urszula. I’ll be writing about it more, probably later today when there is not a two year old literally at my elbow!

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    1. I do love that book, so much.

      I think that what a lot of people reacted to in GSW is that Atticus was suddenly even more complicated than they’d thought, and so was Harper Lee’s writing. GSW also reads very much like what it is—a first novel, and first novels almost always clumsy.


  2. I haven’t heard she passed away. I know the recently “re-discovered” book is very controversial. I bought it but haven’t been able to read it. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my all time favorites.

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    1. It seems to have just happened, maybe last night or early this a.m., and is just being reported. I saw it on BBC when I went to check the headlines this morning.

      Go Set a Watchman is a really tricky novel, and there has definitely been a lot of controversy about it. She’d gone on record many times saying that she didn’t intend to publish another book, and there were lots of questions about her failing health and state of mind when GSW was released. The book itself definitely bears the traces of being a first novel, and there were a lot of things about Atticus in that version that people found objectionable. I thought a lot of what was reacted to re: Atticus was stuff that you could see in the later book, like his own racism peaking through his determination to keep an innocent man out of jail.

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      1. After reading your post I jumped over to BBC to read what they had to say – funny that us Americans use a Brit site to verify things that happen in the US! I know some people who held Atticus up on a pedestal, one who became a lawyer because of him, and they were very, very upset that he would display any racism. And, of course, was she forced into releasing GSW after her sister, who acted as a kind of caretaker, passed on? I’ll eventually break down and read it…

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        1. It is funny—I do prefer the BBC coverage to much of our media.

          I’ve been really surprised, in some respects, by the reactions of people to Atticus’s more overt racism in GSW. It’s there in TKM, too. I never got the impression that Atticus wasn’t a product of his time in many respects, including his views on race. I always understood that what he was doing was about innocence and guilt, and even he felt very conflicted about it.

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        2. He did go out of his way for his kids to know blacks and respect them, to treat them as human beings. That doesn’t mean he didn’t have some racism, just that he was teaching what he thought was right. Also, in TKM I felt that it was seen from a child’s eyes and so idealized. Scout wasn’t racist and idolized her father, so the book was tinted a nice shade of rose – I pointed that out to my lawyer friend and she still was angry – he WAS made of marble, a god above other men, etc., and that wasn’t just how his daughter saw him, and if he wasn’t perfect, how could anyone have any faith in humanity? I pointed out he was a fictional character…..

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        3. Yeah, I think that the child’s perspective is a really important element of TKM, and it definitely affects the way that we’re able, as readers, to see Atticus. It’s a lens, is what it is, really—a lens allows you to see some things better, or differently, but it obscures other possibilities and viewpoints.

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