I have a yearly tradition. It’s actually one of the few traditions that I have had any success in keeping. Each October, I read To Kill A Mockingbird. Maybe you’re asking why that book? There are many reasons why I chose Harper Lee’s Great American classic:
- The story awakens something within me. I’m not sure if it’s all the mischief, the summer vacations or the struggling to fit into a world one doesn’t quite understand…but I never tire of the world of Maycomb.
- Atticus Finch is in the top 3 of my all-time favorite literary characters.
- The issues of prejudice and mutual mis-understanding are just as relevant today as it was in the 60’s.
- The innocence of children often times shed light on blind spots we never knew existed.
And I could go on and on…
Along with my tradition, I have a goal to, after each annual reading, write a reflection on the book. Maybe it’ll look like a strict book review, but often times it will find a more reflective tone. Any timeless character or classic plot is timeless or classic because of what the character learns, how the plot develops and how the reader grows with passing of pages. I’ve read the book now 4 times, and I have taken something different from the book each time.
On to the review:
Much of chapter 3 is spent dissecting people, heritage and blood lines. In a disagreement with their Aunt Alexandra, Scout and Jem Finch find out that prejudice and feelings of superiority run deeper and wider than just skin color. They permeate the views and opinions of all people. Having witnessed an innocent man on trial due to prejudice, Scout feels this prejudice between classes is just as wrong as between races. After talking about one of the local families (the Cunningham’s) and how they’re looked at as “second class citizens” due to their financial situation, Jem and Scout come to a realization..
Scout: No, Jem, I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.
Jem: 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 think I’m beginning to understand why Boo Radley’s stayed shut up in his house all this time…it’s because he wants to stay inside.
As I picked up this book and started out this October, I wondered what was ahead of me. Very quickly, though, as I watched t.v. and as I scrolled Facebook, I’ve witnessed friends and neighbors tear each other down and pick each other apart over perceived differences of belief.
In To Kill A Mockingbird, Scout Finch is learning, interacting and growing in a world that bequeathed status on people according to skin color, social status or family background. They look at someone and say, “I know everything there is to know about you because you are ___(insert generalization here) .” They judge on a loose set of laws that have been passed from generation to generation. They aren’t necessarily based on truth, and the generalization isn’t always based on fact. But the assumption is continuously made. Over. And over again. Like a set of silverware or fine China, it’s passed from one generation to the next.
As I was reading this October, the rhetoric and generalizations were flying off the front page of papers and from the television screens. Political candidates were letting us know that we could judge someone based on their party. We could know everything there is to know about a person by a bumper sticker or cast ballot. There are certain people who are good, and there are those who are not. If you’re a part of the _____________ party, you’re one of us, if not, you’re one of them.
It’s one thing to disagree with someone’s politics. It’s something entirely different to do so with the blind assumption that because they are different from you then they are unintelligent, or unworthy of our time and attention. To disagree with someone doesn’t mean one’s humanity is any less important or worthwhile.
I didn’t expect this years reading of Mockingbird to be filled with thoughts of politicians and their talking points.
But if there’s one thing I was reminded as I walked the streets of Maycomb and if there was ever a message that our society is needing, it’s that Republican, Democrat or (the occasional) Independent shouldn’t matter. Folks are still just folks.
And we all matter.