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Further Thoughts On To Kill A Mockingbird

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Whilst reading To Kill A Mockingbird, I couldn’t help but wonder if the character of Dil was inspired by Truman Capote; Capote and Lee knew each of as children, and there is this quotation from Capote, included on the back of my addition of Lee’s book:

“Someone rare has written this very fine novel, a writer with the liveliest sense of life and the warmest, most authentic humour. A touching book; and so funny, so likeable.”

I didn’t know until halfway through reading the book, wherein I read up about the background of it – that Truman Capote was a friend of Harper Lee’s. Beforehand I’d wondered at the point of a present-day edition including that quote because Capote’s opinion here misses the point of the book and I wondered if there was something to be said of that, a conscious missing of the main point of the book, given the time it was written in and the time it was written about, but the friendship makes more sense, with Capote focusing on the style of the book and Lee’s personality, what he would have liked about her. The tone of it, whilst inevitably biased, is interesting in a literary study sense.

On a different note entirely, as I read more about Lee’s life and the way her book was influenced by her father’s involvement in a similar case to that looked at in the text, I wondered about the reasons for Lee writing it. The possibilities in the way she chose to set it with Scout at the age she had been when her father was working. Is it a novel of ‘what if’ in the sense that Lee would have liked to do more in her position, in the way she involves Scout? Is it simply that she wanted to bring her father’s work to light, to a bigger number of people to show them what happened? Lee said that her book was not autobiographical but clearly, there is something there, the comparisons to be made are too many. Does her reticence on the similarly point to her general shying from the spotlight? Did she simply want more time spent on the text than on her life, albeit that more time on her might have brought more attention to her father’s case? Maybe she wanted people to think generally, and look for commonality between her book and America in general rather than focus on one case.

I read Lee’s book around the same time as I read Kate Chopin’s Bayou Folk story collection and it’s interesting to compare the ways the writers wrote about race, Chopin’s general thoughts of equality (given her time) not being dissimilar. What struck me particularly was In Sabine for its inclusion of a free black man choosing to help a ‘Cajun woman’, married to a ‘white man’ (phrasing the white man uses) with the chores. There is nothing here of Lee’s story beyond this factor, but reading the stories together, it strikes you that, particularly given the ‘white man’s’ stereotyping something could have happened. His wife does not seem happy to be married to him and the narrator, a visitor, notes how much she has changed.

It may have been due to expectation or simply that I didn’t know the book followed a child, but I found it less involved than I thought it would be, less about the courtroom, though the added narrative of difference was a good find. I did think there would be more ‘action’ but it was enjoyable for what it was. Certainly the autobiographical nature of it impressed me. Lee involves all types of people (well, to an extent, in keeping with the time).

This post feels very me-centric, more than usual in terms of Further Thoughts, but it fits the general background context in which I approached the book; not the most concrete of expectations, but enough that it got me thinking. For all the ‘lack’ of action, though, I loved the quietness of it, the slowly unfurling nature of what is transpiring – even if it’s easier for the reader and you have to wait for Scout to understand. And I think there’s something special in the way Scout is recounting the story at an older age, with the benefit of hindsight but also the innocence of childhood mixed in.

What do you think of Lee’s book, or if you haven’t read it, do you plan to?

 
 

Jeanne

September 11, 2017, 4:59 pm

I love the naive narrator aspect of this book. I read it when I was about ten and have loved it ever since. I didn’t see the movie until I was in my late 40s and didn’t care for it much–it does give the trial more pride of place, and I thought it couldn’t do a very good job of telling the story in Scout’s voice. Everyone likes the actor who played Atticus if they saw the movie first.

Kelly

September 11, 2017, 5:38 pm

I didn’t read this book (or see the movie) until I was in my 50s, which is odd since I’ve lived my entire life in the US south. In fact, I only read Gone With the Wind last year, despite having seen the film many times. It’s a good movie, but a much better (though darker) book.

I read a Kate Chopin collection a decade earlier and find your comparisons interesting. In general, though, I find her work a bit depressing.

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