Born in 1926, Harper Lee is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Although this novel was her only published work, its longstanding success contributed to Lee’s winning the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Lee attended Huntingdon College for one year before attending the University of Alabama. In the wake of success, Lee has accepted numerous honorary degrees. She currently splits time between New York City and Monroeville, Alabama.
Just Because We Can Share the Same Water Fountain Doesn’t Mean We Are Sharing the Same Water Fountain
According to a recent New York Times project, North Seattle is predominantly white while South Seattle offers a multicultural dynamic. Why is it that 47 years after the “I Have a Dream” speech, a city as liberal as Seattle is still segregated? For most white citizens, the ideals of equality have taken deep roots, yet family and daily routines insulate individuals from actively practicing such virtues. On the surface, humanity is created equal, but heaven forbid that ethnicities interact!
In light of recent evidence, Harper Lee’s classic novel remains relevant. Set during the Great Depression in a small town of Maycomb, Alabama, To Kill a Mockingbird is narrated by the protagonist, Scout Finch. Living with her brother, Jem, and her widowed father, Atticus — a lawyer of high esteem — the book narrates a story of innocence lost and racial relations in the Deep South.
Those Were the Days When Kids Actually Played Outside
Scout and Jem spend summer vacations utilizing the neighborhood as a playground with their friend Dill. Lee brilliantly channels the childhood mind in her descriptions of these summers. Fascinated with their reclusive neighbor Boo Radley, the children continually devise plans to see the man in his native habitat and concoct expansive stories about the source of his reclusive nature. Reading these sections reminded me of my youth and the fear of jumping a neighbor’s fence to retrieve baseballs. With innocent minds, the most miniscule task could be infinitely dreadful, while dangerous actions seemed commonplace and no cause for worry.
Lee summarizes the children’s age of innocence well when she writes,
“For reasons unfathomable to the most experienced prophets of Maycomb County, autumn turned to winter that year. We had two weeks of the coldest weather since 1885, Atticus said. Mr. Avery said it was written on the Rosetta Stone that when children disobeyed their parents, smoked cigarettes and made war on each other, the seasons would change: Jem and I were burdened with the guilt of contributing to the aberrations of nature, thereby causing unhappiness to our neighbors and discomfort to ourselves” (85).
In the same season, the court appoints Atticus to defend Tom Robinson, an African-American man accused of raping a white woman from an abusive family not popular with many folks in Maycomb. In the racially segregated South, such actions became the talk of the town and eventually spilled over to the lives of Jem and Scout.
As the plot unfolds, prejudice and injustice threaten to fracture the children’s innocence.
Throughout the story, though, the moral compass of Atticus Finch provides a beacon for his children. Despite the misgivings of the townspeople, Atticus not only educates his children on the importance of racial equality, but also allows his children to live out these ideals when they visit African-American churches and communities.
In an era rife with continued underlying segregation, To Kill a Mockingbird reminds us of the importance of incarnationally engaging in relationships with all cultures. Despite the fact that the grievous injustices represented in the book no longer exist, the insulated, mono-cultured lives of most individuals reinforce the idea that other cultures ought to remain other.
How should someone engage with other cultures? Should people of one culture move into the neighborhoods typically occupied by other cultures? Should people serve or work in multi-cultured organizations? While I am unaware of the perfect answer to that question, I realize it is important to do something.
To Kill a Mockingbird is a “masterpiece.” I am truly grateful to have read it as an adult, because I believe I gleaned more from it now than I would have as a teenager. For those who have yet to read this book, please read it soon.