Sunday, June 20, 2010

Day 215/365 To Kill A Mockingbird...or Happy Father's Day

When I was little, I had a hard time keeping my own father separated from Atticus Finch. For that matter, I had a hard time keeping myself separated from Scout. In 1962, my parents took my 6-year-old self across town to a "colored" theater to see To Kill A Mockingbird.

I was amazed at that actor on the screen who managed to portray my dad. And I was impressed that Scout hated wearing dresses as much as I did. I thought it was pretty neat sitting up in the balcony. In our usual theaters we never got to sit in the balcony, cause that was where the "colored" folks sat. Never occurred to me that someone made a law telling folks where they had to sit, based on what neighborhood the theater was in.

To Kill A Mockingbird taught me lots of things.

For instance, the importance of family history:

Scout: May I see your watch? "To Atticus, My Beloved Husband." Atticus, Jem says this watch is gonna belong to him some day.
Atticus Finch: That's right.
Scout: Why?
Atticus Finch: Well, it's customary for the boy to have his father's watch.
Scout: What are you gonna give me?
Atticus Finch: Well, I don't know that I have much else of value that belongs to me... But there's a pearl necklace; there's a ring that belonged to your mother. And I've put them away, and they're to be yours.

How to treat company in your home:

Calpurnia: That boy is your company. And if he wants to eat up that tablecloth, you let him, you hear? And if you can't act fit to eat like folks, you can just set here and eat in the kitchen.

(From time to time, I spent time eating in the kitchen, mostly a result of not thinking before speaking. This of course never happens anymore.)

Dill taught me that everyone has their good points, no matter their apparent shortcomings:

Dill Harris: Hey.
Jem: Hey yourself.
Dill Harris: I'm Charles Baker Harris. I can read. I can read anything you've got.
[swinging on the gate]
Dill Harris: Folks call me Dill.
Jem: How old are you? Four and a half?
Dill Harris: Going on seven.
Jem: Well no wonder then. Scouts bin readin' since she was born, and she's not even six yet. You're mighty puny for nearly seven.
Dill Harris: I'm little but I'm old.

And then there was southern humor, which is sometimes a little subtle and more than a little backhanded:

Atticus Finch: Good Afternoon Miss Dubose... My, you look like a picture this afternoon.
Scout: [hiding behind Atticus whispering to Jem and Dill] He don't say a picture of what.

Atticus explained that some things are a sin. No matter what anyone else tells you, they're still a sin. And you just don't do those things, no matter what other people do.

Atticus Finch: I remember when my daddy gave me that gun. He told me that I should never point it at anything in the house; and that he'd rather I'd shoot at tin cans in the backyard. But he said that sooner or later he supposed the temptation to go after birds would be too much, and that I could shoot all the blue jays I wanted - if I could hit 'em; but to remember it was a sin to kill a mockingbird.
Jem: Why?
Atticus Finch: Well, I reckon because mockingbirds don't do anything but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat people's gardens, don't nest in the corncrib, they don't do one thing but just sing their hearts out for us.

Atticus and my dad also taught me that sometimes you have to do what you have to do. Otherwise you can't live with yourself, and in the end, that's the only person you have to live with:

Atticus Finch: There are some things that you're not old enough to understand just yet. There's been some high talk around town to the effect that I shouldn't do much about defending this man.
Scout: If you shouldn't be defending him, then why are you doing it?
Atticus Finch: For a number of reasons. The main one is that if I didn't, I couldn't hold my head up in town. I couldn't even tell you or Jem not to do somethin' again.
[he puts his arm around her]
Atticus Finch: You're gonna hear some ugly talk about this in school. But I want you to promise me one thing: That you won't get into fights over it, no matter what they say to you

That's the only thing my dad and I disagree about with Atticus: sometimes it's worth getting in a fight, and sometimes you just have to do it.

1 comment:

  1. I read the book (for a GCSE exam) before I saw the film, and unlike most adaptations I think that the novel is portrayed brilliantly.