Want to read with me? Follow this link to view the list and pick a book (or a few!) to read along with me. I'd love for this project to be collaborative, and will post anyone's thoughts beside my own.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Every Third Merriweather is Morbid

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
So we've moved back to 1935, and our main characters are children. To Kill A Mockingbird takes place in the rural South, in Maycomb County, Alabama. Scout and Jem are the children of Atticus Finch, a prominent local lawyer. The story chronicles Scout and Jem's transition from childhood innocence into a heightened level of awareness. Race, poverty, class, manners, education, and morality are all themes that arise in the novel. The novel's plot stems from two main characters: Boo Radley and Tom Robinson. Boo Radley is a neighbor of the Finches who hasn't emerged from his house in many years. Scout and Jem frequently play games near Boo's house, trying to coax him out, but Atticus disapproves. Tom Robinson is a black farmhand who is accused of beating and raping Mayella Ewell, a low class white woman. Atticus defends Tom Robinson in court (it becomes clear to the reader fairly early on that Tom is innocent and Mayella's father attacked her) but to no avail. Tom is convicted, and, despairing while in captivity in prison camp, attempts escape and is shot to death. Bob Ewell, Mayella's father, holds a grudge against Atticus after the court case, as the whole town knows what really happened, and Bob Ewell is a mean drunk. At the book's climax, Scout and Jem are attacked by Bob Ewell, but Boo intercedes, emerging from his house and killing Bob Ewell. Scout realizes that Boo is really very nice, and the book closes.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

This book, above all, is funny and endearing. I loved it when I read it in 8th grade, and I loved it when I read it last year with my 9th graders at Fels, and it was enjoyable once again as I read it this time. The title for this blog is a reference to certain Maycomb families that "everyone knows about", according to Scout. Coming from a small town where there were lots of preconceptions about "the Zackey family", I know what Scout means.

I'm going to continue with my random comments/analysis style from last week's post. Hope you don't mind.

-Haverfords are jackasses in Maycomb. I found this pretty funny, as a Haverford alum and all.

-When Scout and Jem first meet Dill (sorry he didn't make it in the plot summary, he's delightful, but not really essential to the plot), a neighbor's relative, he's so small he barely reaches above the collards. I thought this image was rather funny, and very reminiscent of cabbage patch kids.

-When Scout first starts going to school, she gets reprimanded for already knowing how to read. After her teacher tells her to stop, Scout says, "Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing." This is classic poignancy from Scout via Harper Lee. I can't imagine a world without books, or without reading. It reminded me of when I accidentally failed the French placement exam in college (they were playing this recorded French woman's voice and asking comprehension questions and I messed up some of the scantron answers and started erasing and all of a sudden the test was over) and passed into French 001. The first semester I played catch up, relearning essential grammar, but the second semester, I got a new professor, and she started giving me C's on papers. I asked her why, and she said, "Well, you started using the past tense, but you used it wrong. Don't worry, we won't learn the past tense for a few weeks." And I said, "Well, can you teach me, so I get better grades and I use it right?" And she said, "We aren't learning it for a few weeks, don't worry about it." I transferred up 2 levels to a French-Canadian's class. (That class was awful and I didn't realize for weeks that the main character in a story we were reading was "aveugle", which means blind. That was a fairly crucial vocab word, as it turns out. Serves me right, I suppose.)

-Okay, I'm already getting long-winded. Sorry. Reeling it in. I also loved when Scout tried to "spit-seal" a compromise she makes with Atticus. Very adorable 8-year-old behavior.

-Harper Lee does a beautiful job with the relationship between Scout and Jem. At one point, Scout tries to cheer Jem up. "I picked up a football magazine, found a picture of Dixie Howell, showed it to Jem, and said, "This looks like you." That was the nicest thing I could think to say to him..." Hilarious. I love the way Scout's mind works.

-Dill cries when it becomes clear that the court is going to go against Tom Robinson. I love that he cries, because I cry when things feel wrong and unjust, too, and I rarely feel more like a child than when I cry at things that seem immoral.

-I take offense at Harper Lee's discussion of why women can't serve on the jury. Scout seems dismayed upon first finding this out, then decides that women would "talk too much" and "ask too many questions". I don't know if Harper Lee is being ironic and I'm just not getting it, but I just got called for jury duty, and I'm damn proud. I feel very excited about the prospect of serving on a jury.

-The owner of the town paper writes an editorial about the case against Tom Robinson, and Scout sums it up in these words: "Atticus had used every tool available to free men to save Tom Robinson, but in the secret courts of men's hearts Atticus had no case. " Much goes on in the secret courts of men's (and women's) hearts, and the best lawyer with the best intentions often has no sway there.

-Boo cultivates a sort of secret friendship with Scout and Jem, leaving them gifts in a tree. After Boo rescues Scout and Jem at the end of the book, Scout 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. " I wonder if this counts as zeugma. Zeugma is my favorite literary term, and it refers to mixing the literal and the metaphorical, like "Mrs. Weasley threw dirty looks and sausages into the frying pan." Delightful, right?

Lastly, I'd like to point out what I remember from when I was Scout's age - 9 years old. I was in fourth grade. I was best friends with my still best friend, Deanna. (We met in second grade.) I had Miss Patches (now Mrs. Erb, and now, in fact, my neighbor). I loved my enrichment classes, and I remember we used to draw on laminated copies of the Pennsylvania map. We had to write in cursive on our spelling tests (I maintain my cursive is ugly because I missed some of handwriting when I skipped 1st grade) and there was a mean girl named Vanessa, that I called a "wishy-washy". I posited that "wishy-washies" were the worst kind of people. Sometimes they were nice, but sometimes they were incredibly cruel, and I never knew what to expect. People used to think my sister and I were twins, which I thought was utterly stupid, because we looked (and still look) very dissimilar.

I hope you all Thoroughly enjoyed that trip down memory lane with me. As you can see, my life is fascinating, and being 9 was very formative for me. What do you remember from when you were 9?

I'll close this incredibly long post with my favorite lines from this book.

"Atticus, are we going to win it?"
"No, honey."
"Then why-"
"Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win."

I didn't want to turn this post into a diatribe on race, but I know that I share Atticus's opinion when it comes to making the world better for people of every color, every gender, every sexual orientation, and every faith. The good fight is always worth fighting.

On to The Catcher in the Rye...

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