Tuesday, July 14, 2015

(Mis) Remembering To Kill a Mockingbird

Lots of talk these days about Harper Lee's sequel to her much-praised To Kill a Mockingbird. I haven't yet read Go Tell it on the Mountain (isn't that what it's called?) but we were talking today about TKAM, and I had to confess that I don't remember it that well. To admit this is akin to saying you're not sure if Macbeth is a tragedy or that one about the garden gnomes in midsummer.  I know I've read TKAM more than once, but the first time was probably in Mrs. Bytheway's 10th grade AP English class and the second time might have been for about ten minutes at the library.

But if you were to ask me what's amazing about it, I would have to make something up, like to say that it's one of the first novels to take on race relations, but I would only be able to tell you that because I heard them talking about it on NPR on the ride home from work today.

Here's what I remember about the book. It has a girl in it, and I think her name is Butterscotch. It's definitely an odd name, something that you might name a horse rather than a girl. I'm pretty sure the novel is set in the South, and there may or may not be an older narrator looking back, perhaps an old man with a white beard. As I write this, I'm picturing the narrator of Uncle Jesse from The Dukes of Hazzard.  I believe that Butterscotch makes friends with a big black man named Boo Radley or Beau Ridley, one of the two. I hesitate to write that he was mentally-challenged, because it seems like every story about a young white girl and older black man has to automatically make the black man retarded on some level so that it can remain benign and the girl can teach him his sums by writing them with a stick in the dirt. I feel like there was an important scene where someone was pushing another person on a tree swing. The novel takes place in the Depression era and Butterscotch definitely had short bangs and a bobbed haircut and wore a dingy dress with the hem hanging down. She ran barefoot and was a tomboy.  A woman gets raped and the town blames Boo Radley, because he was seen looking at her through a window while she brushed her hair. I also might be confusing this story line with a Stephen King novel. He goes on trial for rape and possibly murder, and is defended by Atticus Finch. I recall his name clearly because it's often a clue in the Sunday crossword puzzle. Much of the book takes place in the courtroom and the lawyer looks a lot like Gary Cooper. In the end, the black man is found not guilty, but remnants of fear and prejudice remain, so he has to get on a train and leave town, with Butterscotch running after him and yelling. "Don't go, Boo!" in a Southern accent.

On the cover of the book is a tree, meant to symbolize the tree where Boo pushed Butterscotch when times were better. As for the title...Perhaps someone throws a stone at a singing mockingbird early on and wounds it (or, more likely, kills it), and this symbolizes the main theme of the novel that you shouldn't accuse others for doing something they wasn't harmful at all, such as looking at a woman through a window in town.  So, maybe he doesn't get on a train, maybe he is hung in the end, but I feel like that would've been too unjust and may not then have been made into a movie.  

Am I close?  All of this is to say that before I read the sequel, I'll go back to the first book. I also recall that it's a fairly slim volume,
so I should be able to tackle it in about an hour

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