Hello, my dear strangers!
Isn’t it funny how certain situations just align themselves for your convenience? For instance, a few weeks ago, I decided that it was high time to reread To Kill a Mockingbird. Mere days later, my professor told us that we should read it, since we were expected to write an essay on it on our exam. Less than two weeks later, Goodreads introduced its rereading option. Don’t you just love it when the Universe aligns itself to accommodate you?
Anyway, To Kill a Mockingbird. One of the most well-known and widely read books out there. A classic and a necessity. People tend to forget how great classics are, simply because they’re always there, they find themselves on all the reading lists, they’re highly appreciated and widely recommended and it’s part of their curse. With great exposure comes great scorn. Perhaps it’s not even scorn, simply some form of neglect. Yeah, yeah, The Godfather trilogy is great, but let’s watch the latest summer hit instead. Yeah, yeah, Lolita is great, but let’s read the latest cheesy chick-lit novel instead. That’s why the art of rereading (and re-watching, but I’ll limit myself to literature for the moment) is so important. It takes us back to the beginning and allows us to fall back in love with the very essence of a particular highly acclaimed novel, without all the pomp and without all the studies and the professors of this world telling you to love it simply because. It allows for an opportunity to fall back in love with the plot, the characters and the style. It reintroduces its themes in a fresh way. The longer you’ve kept yourself from rereading a certain book you used to love and appreciate, the better the reward will be. I read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time when I was quite young. Almost ten years later, I set out to reread it. In that space of time between the two reads, a lot has happened. For one, I’m not thirteen anymore. I can appreciate the novel from a plethora of different angles now. I’d forgotten many details about it, minor subplots and important quotes. In a nutshell, the experience was magnificent and rewarding on so many levels. That’s why the art of rereading is so important. My to-be-read list is endless and I realise that I’ll never be able to complete it. I’ll die in the middle of reading a book, with countless others waiting on the stack for their turn. This may be the reason why so many people tend to avoid rereading altogether, the fact that there are plenty of books out there waiting to be read and that going back is a simple waste of time. Perhaps, though I tend to disagree, especially after my most recent experience. There are certain books which simply stand out. Visiting them for a second, or third or tenth time is anything but a waste of time.
So, now that I’ve expressed my love for rereading, let’s get on to the novel. There’s not much for me to say that hasn’t already been said and heavily discussed in different articles and academic studies over the decades. There’s an image of a picture-perfect, sleepy small town in the Deep South, teeming with busybody neighbours, urban myths, everyday comings and goings typical of such communities. But, behind the image of a seemingly perfect town resting beneath incessant heat and tightly wrapped in family values lie many different hues of morality.
Everybody’s got both good and bad within, but once fear, prejudice and social norms outweigh common sense, you find yourself in a small world within a larger one, isolated, yet still a part of it. You’ve got the faulty majority, acting out of fear mostly, I’d like to think and not sheer evil and a handful of good men doing their best to make progress. And progress is made, indeed.
The time the plot is set in can allow for no more than baby steps, slow, almost imperceptible glacial processes. The jury’s delayed decision is a baby step. Mayella’s reaching out outside of the norms of what is perceived as acceptable is a baby step, regardless of her subsequent deplorable choices. Mr. Cunningham’s dismissal of a lynch mob is a baby step. The world is filled with baby steps made by both good and bad characters (I actually don’t like the simple characterisation and portrayal of characters as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and am using these words simply due to a lack of better ones), steps that ensure the global improvement of our lives. No one can change completely and it is in baby steps that we must trust. We should appreciate them even more than big, radical alterations, for they represent the subtle change everyday folks make that will eventually grow into something more powerful and stable.
What saddened me the most about the plot is its depiction of innocence or, rather – the loss of innocence. Scout and Jem gradually lose their idealistic, blind faith in their fellow men throughout the course of the novel and replace it with a more pragmatic viewpoint. Arthur used to be a common man, one whose innocence was ruined by his family. Tom used to be a common man, one whose innocence was ruined by society. Instead of treasuring these fragile mockingbirds, people turned their backs on them.
There is a bigger picture here to be encompassed and that is a trait of any good novel – its ability to apply its themes not only on the plot it follows, but the greater world outside of its pages. The motifs of the story could easily be applied to a number of different situations, from wars, poverty, racism, the failure of religion, society and politics, but in their very core lies human psyche. Human psyche is what drives each and every one of us, it’s what makes our choices for us. Tom’s fate was particularly devastating. An animal cannot do that. Only a human being can point a finger at another human being and declare them inferior, less than, vulnerable. Only a human being can charge another human being with a crime they did not commit and then stare without blinking at the evidence exonerating that man, while simultaneously ignoring it and going with the easier route, the preconceived plan.
So, how do we even begin to make improvements and entangle the mess we’ve made of this planet? Well, it begins with a good education. By ‘good education’ I mean Atticus’s teaching, not tertiary education. Atticus stands out as one of, if not the best father figure in literature. His list of qualities is endless, his parenting style perfect and his hands-off approach to raising children both liberating and strict. He has his faults too, although one has to look very closely to spot them, but on the whole, he is the kind of man every person wishes to have as a parent while they’re young and whose behaviour they wish to imitate when parents themselves.
Granted, not all children are lucky enough to have a parent like Atticus. Many of us reach young adulthood disappointed with parenting styles, choices, decisions and inadequacies of our own parents and find ourselves on a crossroads, a crucial point when we decide to re-educate ourselves. If you’re wondering whether the previous sentence applies to me, then yes, yes, it does. However, just for the sake of clarifying things, I’d like to point out that I’m keeping with me about two-thirds of everything my parents have instilled in me. I’m just throwing out the rest and making space for some changes.
The scene that made me very emotional came near the very end of the novel, as I stood behind Scout and watched over her shoulder the street she’d grown up on, the street that seemed very different from Arthur Radley’s porch. It was there at last that Scout learned the valuable lesson Atticus had been trying to teach her all along, about the importance of walking around in the shoes of another and experiencing life from their point of view. How easy that lesson is to grasp in theory, yet how unbelievably difficult to apply in reality. Every day we clash with people over our differences. It’s easy to sit down, read a book like this one and absorb its lessons. It’s hard to go and silently accept that which seems unacceptable to us. After that day, Scout had never seen Arthur again. One would think that he, having gone out and interacted with people after a long period of isolation, would gladly start socialising a bit more. It simply doesn’t happen. It may appear strange or incomprehensible to us, but Arthur is a scarred mockingbird who no longer sees any other way to live.
I guess there are various interpretations this novel could receive. I’ve grasped most of them, but the one that stands out for me is the importance of small, everyday acts of kindness. They can move mountains and touch people in ways we would never expect. A smile has the power to uproot trees and part seas. I know that I must sound like an old, idealistic hippie right now, but that’s simply the way I feel. There’s enough cruelty in this world without us adding to it.
Injustice plays a huge role in this story, particularly the failure of law and the justice system. Despite Atticus’s best efforts, an innocent man ends up incarcerated and later killed. A young woman becomes a single parent and a widow. The true culprit gets to walk away. The one place where everybody’s supposed to be treated equally fails the man most in need of its protection. There is some malevolent force, I’m certain of it, trying to keep the balance of this world by dealing judgement where it is uncalled for. Call it Murphy’s Law or karma or however you will, but somehow, the odds always seem stacked against the small guy, working, trying his best to succeed, to live peacefully. There’s just one kind of folks, indeed – folks. Although, Orwell might argue that some folks are simply more equal than others.
And, so it goes on, this never-ending streak of injustice, repeating itself in literature and art and, most of all, in our lives. Yet, despite it all, the image of the sleepy Southern town, though marred, still somehow manages to remain intact. That’s where the balance part comes in. For every yin there’s a yang. Colossal changes take place every single day, no matter how small the scale may be. With a bit of luck and the right equipment, you may become one of those nameless people who bring about improvement and positive change, even though your names and deeds will never end up in history books, the only people remembering the kind of person you were your dearest and nearest. In today’s world, that’s all anybody could wish for. It’s not settling, per se, it’s transcending the person you were yesterday and replacing it with a better version of yourself. And, often times, that’s just about enough. It’s plenty.
Keep reading 🙂