Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Yesterday, my favorite Southern novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, turned 50.

Monroeville, Alabama is having a mega-celebration birthday party for the book, authored by hometown girl, Harper Lee. I used the word "girl" calculatingly, because in the South boys are, well, "boys" and girls are "good ol' girls", no matter the age. The festivities are to run all summer and four editions of the book are planned by publisher, HarperCollins, each with a different cover.

Harper Lee, as is her self-imposed legend, most likely will avoid the limelight. She is 84, lives in Alabama and has never published another book. TKAM was originally published in 1960 by J. B. Lippincott and Company and won a Pulitzer Prize.

The classic of high school lit classes, the plot takes place in the Great Depression. Scout Finch, an avowed tomboy, lives with her brother, Jem, and their widowed father, Atticus, in Maycomb, Ala. Atticus is a prominent lawyer and the Finch family is well off. One summer, Jem and Scout befriend a boy named Dill, who has come to live in their neighborhood. Dill becomes fascinated with the spooky house on their street called the Radley Place, owned by Nathan Radley, whose brother, Boo, has lived there for years, never going outdoors.

Scout, and Jem make fun of Boo Radley, doing everything in their power to lure him outside. Atticus stops it, admonishing the kids to understand and sympathize with the odd Boo. But the three sneak onto the Radley property, where Nathan shoots at them. Jem loses his pants and returns for them later. He finds them sewn and hanging on the fence. Scout find more presents in the tree, presumably left by the mysterious Boo.

A fire breaks out in a neighbor’s house, and during the fire someone slips a blanket on Scout’s shoulders as she watches the blaze. Convinced that Boo did it, Jem tells Atticus about the mended pants and the presents.

In a seeming subplot, Atticus agrees to defend a black man named Tom Robinson, who has been accused of raping a white woman. In this break with the societal norm, Jem and Scout are made fun of. Scout doesn't take kindly to this treatment and wants to fight back. They find refuge with the black community.

At the trial, Scout and Jem sit in the colored balcony. Atticus proves the accusers, Mayella Ewell and her father, Bob, are lying. That Mayella propositioned Tom Robinson, was caught by her father, and then accused Tom of rape to cover her shame and guilt. But Robinson is convicted. Scout can't understand why, and Atticus explains he had to do his duty, but that the verdict was a foregoing conclusion, given the culture they lived in. Shortly after, Scout learns that Tom Robinson had been killed in an escape attempt.

Bob Ewell is raving mad at Atticus and the judge and vows revenge. He tries to break into the judge’s house, then attacks Jem and Scout as they walk home. Jem is wounded. Boo Radley intervenes, stabbing and killing Ewell. The sheriff protects Boo by saying Ewell tripped over a tree root and fell on his own knife. Boo once again confines himself to the Radley house.

Moral of the story: Scout's experience with prejudice and hatred gives her an understanding of what others must go through in a stratified society. She begins to under sympathy and practices kindness.
The New York Times reports that in Rhinebeck, N.Y., Oblong Books will host a party with Mocktails and a performance by the indie band the Boo Radleys.