To kill a demigod

 

2016-03-14 10.32.26

To Kill a Mockingbird was the last book I read aloud to my children, in 2009 when they were in the 6th grade. Sensing that our beloved read-aloud ritual was ending, I chose the one book I most wanted to share with them.

I wanted them to love the book I’d loved since I first read it at the same age. Whole swaths of it flew over my head in 1976, but I revisited it about once a year for the following ten. With each reading I understood more, and the more I understood, the more I loved it. Although I knew it was considered an unsophisticated and unoriginal choice, To Kill a Mockingbird has for decades been my answer to the question, “What is your favorite book?”

It’s not any more.

When I first heard news last spring of the impending publication of Harper Lee’s long-lost manuscript, Go Set a Watchman, the novel she wrote before Mockingbird, I was first curious, then concerned. Like so many others, I wondered what the true story of this story was.

It was hard for me to believe that Lee truly didn’t know where that manuscript had been for so many years. It made no sense that after such a long silence as a writer, she’d finally consent to publication of another book–especially one that was a rejected prequel/sequel to Mockingbird. When I read conflicting reports about its circumstances, I decided I wouldn’t read Watchman. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to spoil my love of the first book (although there was that) as it was that the writer I am wanted to be loyal, somehow, to the writer I imagined Lee to be. I couldn’t be sure she wasn’t being taken advantage of.

After Watchman was published last summer and so many people lost their shit over the revelation that Atticus, our hero of demigod proportions, held views that were (whaaat???) racist, I changed my mind. That, to me, was a hugely interesting development. It suggested to me that the original book might contain complexities that I, in my so many, many readings of it, had never grasped. It suggested to me that there might be more to the story of Harper Lee than I’d ever imagined. I bought and read a copy soon after its release.

2016-03-10 16.20.29

As a work of literature, it was a disappointment. So many of the things I loved best about Mockingbird were missing in Watchman:  Lee’s masterful use of language, her deadpan humor, her fully developed characters. Watchman was uneven, didactic, and–dare I say it?–boring for long stretches. It was clearly the early, unedited work of a less-experienced writer.

As a piece of social commentary and an artifact of a writing life, though, it was fascinating. Through much of the book, the narrator, an adult Scout, excoriates Atticus and any other character who defends a way of life in which Black Americans were denied the rights and privileges given to whites. Given the time in which Lee attempted to publish the book–the 1950s of the Montgomery bus boycott and Brown v. The Board of Education–I understood why her original manuscript might have been rejected and Lee counseled to tell the story that became Mockingbird.

Reading Watchman, in which Atticus does, indeed, voice beliefs that most today would consider racist, my mind raced with questions I’d never before considered:

Is it possible that Lee wrote and published Mockingbird because a palatable story with a white hero was the only way in which she could publish any kind of “race novel”?

Is it possible that Lee never published another book because she felt unable to tell the story she really wanted to tell?

Is it possible she was disappointed that none of us could see the limitations of the Atticus she knew–not the heroic white champion of equality, but a man who was doing his duty more from a love of law and sense of fairness than anything else?

Was it possible that she fully knew and understood that Watchman was an inferior book, but she wanted it published as-is because she wanted us all to question our complete adoration of Atticus and Mockingbird? Is it possible she wanted all of us who’ve loved Mockingbird to lose our innocence about it so that we could grow up about race in America, just as Scout’s loss of her childlike love for her father in Watchman transforms her into an adult?

Such a loss of innocence is exactly what what I experienced while reading Watchman. How to reconcile the character I grew up so admiring in Mockingbird with the one who, in Watchman, says these words?

“Do you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theaters? Do you want them in our world?….

“Now think about this. What would happen if all the Negroes in the South were suddenly given full civil rights? I’ll tell you. There’d be another Reconstruction. Would you want your state governments run by people who don’t know how to run ’em?….Zeebo’d probably be the mayor of Maycomb. Would you want someone of Zeebo’s capability to handle the town’s money?” (245-246)

How could Atticus, the man who stood up to a whole town to defend a Black man, say these words? Well, because, as I finally saw when Watchman sent me back into Mockingbird for the first time in seven years, he wasn’t standing up to defend a Black man. He was defending an innocent man who happened to be Black. He was upholding the law and our system of justice, something I can now see quite clearly. In a conversation with his brother, Jack, Atticus explains why he’s taken the Robinson case:

“You know, I’d hoped to get through life without a case of this kind, but Judge Taylor pointed at me and said, ‘You’re It.” (100)

Atticus argues the case fully not because he is hoping to change the state of race relations in Maycomb, but because it’s necessary for him to be able to live with himself:

“This case, Tom Robinson’s case, is something that goes to the essence of a man’s conscience….before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.'” (120)

I just didn’t see it because, as is always the case with literature, I saw it through the lens of my own experiences and needs. Although Mockingbird is absolutely a criticism of overt racism, only now can I see that it is full of the kind of racism that is so often invisible to white people in America. It’s also full of dubious, unchallenged messages about social class, gender, and disability.

Ewell

Look, for example, at chapter 12, when Calpurnia takes Scout and Jem to her church. A Black woman, Lula, questions Calpurnia for bringing white children to her community’s church, saying, “‘–they got their church, we got our’n. It is our church, ain’t it, Miss Cal?” But then Zeebo, the garbage collector dismissed as unfit to rule by Atticus in Watchman, steps from the crowd and dismisses Lula and her “fancy ideas” by attaching to her the words “contentious,” “troublemaker,” and “haughty.” (And let’s not overlook attachment of the word “nigger” to her, which is the one Calpurnia, implied to be superior because of an education that seems to have come from the generosity and graciousness of the Finches, uses to address her, and which prompts a discussion between Calpurnia, Scout, and Jem about why Calpurnia doesn’t “talk right” when she’s with Black people.) Lula is swept aside by her congregation as the “solid mass” of them welcomes the children of Atticus.

As a younger reader, I understood this scene through the filter of my own (limited) knowledge and values. I knew it was unfair to exclude someone, especially children, from any place because of their skin color–so, of course, Lula was wrong. It was right for her to be pushed aside and for Jem and Scout to be welcomed in. I had no understanding, even as late as 2009, that for Lula the community of her church was a safe sanctuary within a larger society that the novel shows us so clearly is unsafe for her, and that allowing white people into it (even children) could destroy that for her. I didn’t understand that her need for such a space and her anger over such a breach could arguably trump my color-blind doctrine of fairness. I saw Lula’s scorn over the idea that Jem and Scout were Calpurnia’s “company” (“‘Yeah, an’ I reckon you’s comp’ny at the Finch house durin’ the week'”) as evidence of some kind of impolite, trouble-making contentiousness, rather than as evidence of how unfair it was that the Finch children could enter into the Black community’s church when Calpurnia would never be allowed to enter theirs.

I’m embarrassed to admit that in all my many readings, I never saw these things; they seem so glaringly obvious now. But I didn’t, so blinded was I by the light of Atticus’s goodness and my own, relatively privileged life.

Lula

I think part of the reason I loved Mockingbird so was that it allowed me to feel OK about being white in a country where Blacks have been treated so cruelly and brutally. I could look at the town of Maycomb and think:  That’s not me or my people. That was another time (years before my birth) and another place (the South, a far more racist region than mine). I could look at Atticus and think:  We’re not all bad. I can be like he is.

I was worried that my children would first encounter this book in school, and that their experience with it there would ruin the love I hoped they’d develop for it, but I can see now that I was worried about the wrong things. Only now can I see the messages they might take from it, ones I internalized without even realizing their existence:

  • That Black people need white people to save them because they aren’t capable of saving themselves.
  • That some people are inherently better than others.
  • That white people outside of the South are superior to those in it because we aren’t racists like they are.

And look at where we are now. America’s long-simmering racism has come to full boil, and I cannot help but wonder if Lee “found” the manuscript for Watchman and had it published without any editing to soften the edges of the Atticus she first imagined because she could sense that what has been coming for years was about to erupt. I wonder if she knew we can no longer afford to blindly worship at the altar of Atticus.

trump

In order to finally grow up, the Scout of Watchman had to “kill” the idealized version of Atticus that lived in her head (265). So it has been with me:  In order to see painful truths about depictions of race (and class and gender) in this novel, I’ve had to let die the idealized vision I’ve held of it for so many years.

As much as I once loved Mockingbird, as important a book as it was in opening peoples’ eyes to one level of racism, I think it is time for it to be retired as our “national novel” (as Oprah once called it). We need a new national narrative about race, one that isn’t a book by, for, and about white people, with a white hero at its epicenter. While we certainly have our own stories about race, and racial matters impact us, too, ours are not the most important stories to know and tell about race. We need to listen to those who are telling stories that white people can’t tell, and we need to lose the idea that being color-blind is the best way to see each other.

folks

Lee’s final act as a writer–putting this lesser book into the public sphere–has forced me to grow up as both a reader and writer. All those questions I had about what really happened with this manuscript and what her possible motives for publishing it might have been? Other questions I’ve had about Lee and where she really stood on issues of race, class, and gender? I’ve realized that the answers to them don’t really matter.

We writers like to think we can control readers’ reactions to our work. We think that if we labor over our words long enough we will get them just right so that no one can misunderstand us. We cannot. We can only tell our truth and release it to the world and let others make of it what they will. What any work means is something created between the words and the reader who brings to them their own truth. That’s the terrible and wonderful thing about any creative art, and there’s not a damn thing we can do about that. Or should, even if we could.

We need to create and share for our own reasons, and let go of the outcomes. I like to think that’s exactly what Harper Lee did, and I will be forever grateful not only for the lessons both her books have taught me about reading and race, but also for what she’s taught me about how to be a writer.

***********

Page numbers refer to these editions of the books:
40th Anniversary Edition of To Kill a Mockingbird, published by HarperCollins, 1999
1st Edition of Go Set a Watchman, published by HarperCollins, 2015

Trump photo from Gage Skidmore (https://www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore/5439997505/in/photostream/), adapted by me.

See this post for other photo attributes.

If you would like to further explore issues of race in literature (especially if you’re white), I highly recommend the blog Reading While White.

15 thoughts on “To kill a demigod

  1. Kate says:

    I sat down at my computer and thought, “I have ten minutes before I have to go pick up my kids from school. I’ll see if Rita’s up to anything.”

    And BOOM.

    I have thoughts. A lot of them. And very little time. So I’ll be back, but I just wanted to say that I really appreciate your thoughtful and well written post, Rita.
    Kate recently posted…The Little ThingsMy Profile

    • Kate says:

      At the very least you made me do some thinking.

      I tried reading To Kill a Mockingbird about 7 times before I actually could get into the story. I’m not going to lie, once I actually did like it enough to keep reading, I loved it but I also read it as an adult (it wasn’t required reading in my school) and it was one of those books I only read once so I’m probably not the best at deconstructing it. (I also have no desire to read Go Set A Watchman).

      I find it interesting at how shocked people were at an Atticus who is racist (when his racism was only more covert in Mockingbird) because he’s a white man from the south in 1930’s. Racism and classism from someone like Atticus Finch would not only be accepted, it would be expected. It was institutional. I think we want to paint over the fact that there were a great many “good” people in the world – sympathetic, kind, hardworking individuals – who held racist and classist views. It is shaming to realize that there were (and are) people who feel as if someone is more or less worthy based on the color of their skin. It is shaming to realize that in the time and place this book takes place those thoughts were the NORM. I think people grabbed ahold of Atticus as a hero and overlooked what he was REALLY saying because we want to be absolved.

      You touch on some of the really hard things on the race discussion. I’m white. I live in one of the whitest cities in one of the whitest states. I went home to Michigan in December and stopped at Meijer (like a Target) to pick some things up. I checked into my hotel and then called my husband to say, “I just realized how surrounded by white people we are at home. There are black and brown people everywhere here. It surprised me.” I don’t feel like I have the right or the qualifications to say anything about race and yet I also struggle being silent when someone posts something ridiculous about Beyonce’s half time show.

      For now, I can say is that I’m reminded regularly to check my privilege and to remember that even really good people can have really bad ideas.
      Kate recently posted…Tuesday Things: Burning LoveMy Profile

      • Rita says:

        “I think we want to paint over the fact that there were a great many “good” people in the world – sympathetic, kind, hardworking individuals – who held racist and classist views.” Of course I don’t know, but I sense this is what Lee might have struggled with, or wanted to express. I think that is the central conflict in Watchman–Atticus is a “good” man, but he holds views that put a great many people in a different class, with different rights. That book made me wonder if Lee dropped out of public discourse because all of those who adored Mockingbird (and Atticus) missed that point. Watchman shows me that she got it, back in the 50s when she wrote it. I think.

        As for who should speak about race, I really appreciate the stance of the librarians who publish Reading While White. From their About page: “We know that we lack the expertise that non-white have on marginalized racial experiences. We resolve to listen and learn from people of color and First/Native Nations people willing to speak about those experiences. We resolve to examine our own White racial experiences without expecting people of color and First/Native Nations people to educate us. As White people, we have the responsibility to change the balance of White privilege.”

        I think it’s really important that white people speak out; otherwise, we are putting the burden for making change on those who have already been burdened enough.

  2. Gretchen says:

    “I think part of the reason I loved Mockingbird so was that it allowed me to feel OK about being white in a country where Blacks have been treated so cruelly and brutally. I could look at the town of Maycomb and think: That’s not me or my people. That was another time (years before my birth) and another place (the South, a far more racist region than mine). I could look at Atticus and think: We’re not all bad. I can be like he is.”

    Bam. I think that’s it exactly. Giving your largely white readership an innocent kid as a narrator and stand-in–letting your readers, along with Scout and Atticus, look down on racism as something OTHER people (largely poor white people) are responsible for….that’s not helpful. There’s a long history of baiting race and class against each other in this country….in politics, certainly, but you see it over and over again in literature, too. I was intrigued when you chose the quote about Ewells in your earlier post because that part stands out to me so starkly in my grown-up TKAM re-readings–the way Lee talks about poor white people using exactly the same language the most blatant racists would use to talk about African Americans. It’s so glaring it seems strange to me that she didn’t realize she was doing it.

    I gave TKAM to Ari (then 13) to read last year, and we talked a little about these issues…but I wasn’t sure to what extent I should attempt to ruin the book every 8th grader in America loves for him. I’m still not sure….I guess the thing to do is give him increasingly complex texts to grapple with; there’s really not a whole lot of great American literature that’s NOT largely about race in one way or another.

    And I should read Go Set a Watchman.

    • Rita says:

      Yes, the ways in which the poor are depicted are pretty terrible. I started a first version of this post last summer, right after I read Watchman, but I didn’t go back to Mockingbird right away. That happened only recently. I was working with a pair of teachers on planning a Mockingbird unit, and they expressed concerns about the messages the book conveys about race, class, gender, and disability. That got me back into Mockingbird, and I couldn’t believe all I’d missed over so many years. Our district is increasingly diverse and poor. Those teachers work in our alternative school. We were all concerned about how our students would feel reading this book and how we could use it in affirming and constructive ways. The ways in which poor people are depicted really bothered me. (Atticus calls people “trash” more than once, and the Ewells are likened to animals.) And then Lee died, and all I saw in the media was adoration for this novel. That bothered me even more. One of the teachers and I were talking about our concerns in front of an Hispanic colleague, and she sighed and quietly said, “I hate that book.” She sounded resigned when she said it, and that really, really bothered me–thinking of how many kids are given this book and how it is presented to them. Wondering what our treatment of it does to all the poor kids and kids of color who have to read it in school. (And that would be most of the kids in America.)

      In earlier versions of this post, Atticus wasn’t the only demigod who died for me; it was Lee, too. At the end of Watchman, Scout seems to come around to her father and uncle’s way of thinking some, and I felt I couldn’t really be sure of what Lee was wanting to tell all of us. When I read Watchman, it’s plausible to me that even when Mockingbird was first written, Lee could see all the kinds of bigotry expressed in it; I have wondered if her silence as a writer had something to do with feeling that we all spectacularly missed the point. Unless other writings come to light, I’m guessing we’ll never really know. I finally decided I can’t really know, and I reached my own conclusion that her intentions (both in/for the novels and in publishing Watchman) don’t really matter. What matters is what we make of the work now. I suppose Watchman did knock Lee down off a pedestal for me, but that’s OK. It’s the work I’m grateful for because together they’ve helped me see important things, and I’m always grateful for the person who creates work that matters.

      (Oh, and if you’re going to read Watchman, I recommend borrowing it from the library. Don’t think you’re going to care about owning it.)

  3. Mandy says:

    I think the first book shows us how people’s experiences and relationships and even where they live can Chan

    I think the first book shows how we form our ideas based on where we live and the people around us. Mocking Bird shows us how we can see faulty thinking and bad relations between people even within that
    Limited area. Usually a crisis like the trial makes us question our views and beliefs. We are always growing and having “aha” moments no matter how old we are.

  4. Marian says:

    I’m coming quite late to this discussion, but thought I’d add my two cents anyway, despite the fact that I didn’t read TKAM until I was about 35 years old, and certainly, growing up in Canada in a very multicultural neighbourhood meant I didn’t witness a heckuva lot of overt racism. (Although I’m sure there were plenty of behind-the-back slurs bandied about 🙁 ).

    Reading your post has gotten me thinking of a few things. First, I wonder if “American idealism” has a role to play in the shock people feel upon reading about the “true” Atticus revealed in Watchman. I feel sometimes that American heroes are oftentimes made out to be superheroes — infallible and not quite human — so that when their true colours are revealed, or they slip even just a little bit from their idealized personas, the fall is greater than it would be elsewhere. I feel like this is part and parcel of the whole “glossiness” of the US, where everyone must somewhat hide the fact that they’re imperfect and human (hair must be dyed, teeth must be whitened, tummies must be tucked, wrinkles must be botoxed…). Tied in with American idealism would be the American Dream: the overarching feeling/belief that anyone can achieve anything, given enough hard work. Therefore, it stands to reason that those who *aren’t* achieving (ie. white trash in TKAM) simply aren’t working hard enough and thus deserve harsh judgement from those who have bought into the American dream.

    I also got to thinking about “tribalism” (in an evolutionary sense), and whether or not that was somehow an instinctual part of human nature, with racism perhaps being an extreme form of tribalism (which may depend on how we’re raised). So, Kate’s take on Atticus being exactly what he was “supposed” to be (as a product of his time) makes sense to me. It would be nice to believe that humankind is now evolving past that baser part of human nature, but sometimes it seems as though we’re going in reverse.

    I do feel that perhaps Atticus’ last sentence: “Zeebo’d probably be the mayor of Maycomb. Would you want someone of Zeebo’s capability to handle the town’s money?” is not necessarily a racist comment, but speaks only to a belief in a lack of his capability. When I was in university, I had a couple of friends in medical school and one day they were discussing a fellow student in their program, an aboriginal who had apparently been admitted with a lower than usual GPA as a part of “affirmative action”. My two very white friends said, “would you want to be operated on by someone who was allowed to become a doctor simply because he was NOT white?” It was a difficult conversation to listen to; were my friends racist or were they simply being brutally pragmatic?

    • Rita says:

      Well, I think there’s a pretty big difference between being admitted to medical school with a lower gpa and becoming a doctor because you’re not white. I doubt the students with the lower gpa were automatically given medical degrees. In some ways, the student who came into med school less qualified but met all the requirements to earn the license while there, might be the better doctor. At the least, he or she might have some personal qualities that could be lacking in those who did not have to struggle as much. So, yes–I think they may have been being racist. They were making assumptions about what the aboriginal student was capable of learning.

      I agree with you and Kate that Atticus reflects the time in which he lived. He was definitely progressive for his time and place. For today? Not so much.

  5. Marian says:

    I think that the term racist — either the fear of being labelled as one, or the use of it to label someone — has a bit of a trump card effect in shutting down conversation. If Zeebo were a white man would Atticus be vilified for questioning Zeebo’s capability to become mayor? If the goal is to get to the point as a society where we no longer see race, is it possible to get there by using skin colour as a final determining factor? I don’t have an answer for this, and to be clear, I’m not arguing against affirmative action. (This comment is completely my “grey” I-can-see-all-sides-of-an-argument talking). As to the conversation of the medical students … perhaps the aboriginal student of 30 years ago did indeed make a wonderful doctor. However, I feel it should be pointed out that if he didn’t, then at the very least, he was given the benefit of the doubt and allowed to try to prove himself, while others who might have had good personal qualities but struggled academically were not given that same opportunity. Struggles are, after all, not only determined by skin colour and ethnicity, as evidenced by the troubled “white trash” in TKAM. I get — and fully support — that we need a diverse mix of people in all walks of life and in all positions of society. And I get that society has for far too long been ruled by white men. I cheered when our prime minister said he had formed a cabinet with 50% women “because it was 2015”. But the things is, we’re not merely collective cogs in the wheels of society; we’re individuals, and I think it can be problematic when we ask individuals to make amends for things which they did not perpetrate, and to expect ever greater things of them because they need to somehow make up for unfair advantages conferred to their ancestors. These are really difficult questions and I don’t pretend to have ANY answers. But I suspect that reducing conversations to the final question “is a person a racist?” or “is a person a misogynist?” or “is a person a classist?” is probably not going to result in a successful outcome.

    • Rita says:

      Sorry it’s taken me so long to respond. (Life and all.) I do think that fear of being labeled “racist” does shut down many of us who are white, and it keeps us from having conversations that we desperately need to have–and I don’t know how we have those conversations without some people shutting down. I am not sure that getting to a society where we no longer see race is the goal. Our racial/cultural identity is part of who each of us is–and to deny that, or try to interact with each other without acknowledging that, seems a different kind of problematic to me. I would like to see us get to a place where we are all known and respected and understood. (I have lofty ideals!)

      Having my daughter attend school where I work has been eye-opening for me. We have both seen all the ways in which she is privileged today–so conferring some “advantage” on other students isn’t just about unfair advantages conferred upon ancestors; it’s about unfair advantages that exist today. My daughter has worked very, very hard. It is hard, sometimes, to see opportunities that aren’t available to her because she is white and not poor enough to qualify for them–especially when we are neither poor enough to qualify for help nor rich enough to pay her way on our own. But: we can both see that the privileges she does have are a big part of what has helped her achieve at higher levels than some of her peers, kids who are also very smart and very hard-working. (A huge advantage: having a parent who is part of the system and understands how it works and how to advocate for her child within it.) Is everything that happens fair? Maybe not. Some of her friends who are not white are more economically advantaged than she is, and they qualify for opportunities she does not. But class advantage and racial advantage are two different things, and I think it might be impossible to account for all varied nuances of advantage and disadvantage. What I do know is this: It breaks my heart to see how some of the kids I’ve come to know through my daughter will not have the same opportunities she will, and it is in part because of the circumstances they were born into. So, I think we have to have hard conversations and I don’t know if it’s possible for us to move forward without some of us feeling uncomfortable/threatened/misunderstood/unfairly judged. I think we have to be able to endure the discomfort and move through it, though.

      I appreciate you engaging in this with me. I would never claim to have all the answers, either. These are really hard questions.

  6. Sarah says:

    I keep trying to think what I can add to the discussion here but I feel like your post encapsulated things so thoroughly that all I can really say is YES. I admire the clear-eyed, honest post you’ve written.

    It’s really a bummer when we see our favorite childhood books with new eyes and have to “give them up” as our favorites because of their treatment of race, class, or gender. I think maybe that is an example of the kind of discomfort that comes when our privilege is disrupted — a seemingly small, even trivial example to some, but for people who organize their lives around language and books and narrative, it has a huge impact.

    Some friends and I have been talking about that with respect to the Little House on the Prairie books — I loved them as a kid of course but it’s hard to stomach their treatment of Native Americans from my adult vantage point. (Though even as a kid, I knew that Ma’s attitudes were wrong. Somehow they’re harder to dismiss when thinking about sharing the books with my own kid though.) Apparently Louise Erdrich has written a series of books about an Ojibwe family set in a similar time period and aimed at a similar grade level, so I’m looking forward to trying those out.

    I really liked learning more about what was behind those photos/quotes you posted a while back. Oh, and that Trump image/quote — just perfect the way you’ve flipped his meaning around in this new context. Speaking of that, have you heard about the letterpress artist who is writing found poetry from Trump’s speeches? http://www.citypages.com/arts/krista-stout-turns-trumps-words-into-poetry-that-benefits-bernie-8129041
    Wonderful stuff.
    Sarah recently posted…Late-winter pick-me-upMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      That poetry is cool! I love stuff like that; thank you for linking to it. I hadn’t heard of it.

      And the children’s books–oh, yeah. I was so excited to read Caddie Woodlawn to my kids when they were young. It was one of my favorites, and Caddie is such a spunky, strong girl. I wanted my daughter to be just like her. And then we ran into the depiction of Native Americans. It wasn’t all bad, but much of it was wrong. So, we had some conversation about that, and I think it was OK. We could admire Caddie’s admirable qualities, AND talk about how/why white people in that time would view Native Americans in the way they did and why we see it differently today.

      As an educator, what I hope is that teachers who use Mockingbird are having those same kinds of conversations. Atticus is both admirable and limited. He’s human! And a product of his time! (As are all of us.) I wouldn’t advocate that we not read these books, but I think we have to be very thoughtful, sensitive, and purposeful in what we do around the reading of them. Otherwise, we risk hurting kids and perpetuating beliefs that hurt all of us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge