Beginning September 1, and running through the end of Banned Books Week (October 2), Business & Heritage Clarksville will run commentary on at least one of the Top 100 Banned Books of the period 2000-2010.
Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird came off the presses in 1960, has been described as “a searing portrayal of race and prejudice told through the eyes of a little girl.”
Lee reportedly based her plot and characters on observations of her family and neighbors, and on an event that occurred near her hometown in 1936, when she was 10-years-old. Lee wrote about blatant white racism, illustrated by her liberal use of the n-word sprinkled throughout the novel. The story also deals with aspects of violence and alienation. Many black readers were offended and that, in addition to language and theme, triggered the banning of the book in many schools.
Once again, it seemed that the aspiring censors would edit aspects of history and culture that had become “offensive.”
From its inception as a work of literature, the story moved on to become both a play and major motion picture starring Gregory Peck as lawyer Atticus Finch, a role for which he won an Academy Award for Best Actor. The film also won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.
The time spans three years during the Great Depression. The place is Maycomb, Alabama. The narrator is Scout Finch, a six-year-old child living with her lawyer father Atticus Finch and her older brother, Jem. Both children befriend Dill, a boy staying in Maycomb for the summer with his aunt.
The children are simultaneously terrified and intrigued by a reclusive neighbor, Boo Radley, and vest hours figuring out how to lure the mysterious man from his home and subsequently find small tokens left in a tree outside Boo Radley’s house.
Meanwhile, Atticus is defending Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a young white woman, Mayella Ewell. The Maycomb citizenry disapprove, taunting his children and calling the attorney a “nigger-lover.” Although many of Maycomb’s citizens disapprove, Atticus agrees to defend Tom. Scout, a fiesty kid, wants to defend her father’s honor, and Atticus faces down a lynch mob.
Defying their father’s wishes that they not attend the trial, the youngsters watch from the “colored” balcony. Though Atticus proves the accusers, Mayella and her father, Bob, are lying, the jury votes to convict. Jem’s faith in justice is broken, as is Atticus’, when Tom is subsequently shot and killed in a prison escape.
Bob Ewell vows revenge, ultimately he attacks Jem and Scout. Jem’s arm is broken in the struggle, but amid the confusion, the mysterious Boo Radley comes to the children’s rescue.
Despite dealing with the serious issues of rape and racial inequality, the novel is also acclaimed for its warmth and humor. Atticus Finch is a moral hero to many readers and as a “model of integrity” for lawyers. One critic explained the novel’s impact by writing:
“In the twentieth century, To Kill a Mockingbird is probably the most widely read book dealing with race in America, and its protagonist, Atticus Finch, the most enduring fictional image of racial heroism.”
Though immensely popular, it garners less attention than many other American novels. Christopher Metress in “The Rise and Fall of Atticus Finch,” published in the The Chattahoochee Review in 2003, writes that the book is “an icon whose emotive sway remains strangely powerful because it also remains unexamined.”
In 1961, To Kill A Mockingbird earned the 1961 Pulitzer Prize and the Brotherhood Award of the National Conference of Christians and Jews. In 2001m Lee was inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor. It was later to become the first text in Chicago’s One City, One Book program. In 2007, Lee won the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
To Kill A Mockingbird, as it celebrates its golden anniversary, remains an American classic in multiple forms: print, stage and screen. Lee has forever captured images of the South at a time when racism and segregation were the order of the day.