A Mockingbird’s History
Two weeks ago we read To Kill A Mockingbird for class. I cannot believe I did not blog over this!!! I had read this book in high school and rather enjoyed it. Or, well, it was read to us in high school and I got in trouble for reading ahead and finishing it before everyone else… but that’s not the point. The second time around, I was amazed at how much I managed to miss and how wonderful this book truly is. Dr. Berry asked if he should assign it again and got a rather loud return of yeses. Yes, yes he should. Always (And the HP fans just said “ALWAYS!).
When Dr. Berry sent out an email asking which books we would like to lead discussion on, I instantly replied with this one. Luckily no one else wanted it (or they don’t troll their email 24/7). When I started reading this book again, I was amazed at how much I was discovering. I had bought a copy forever ago at a yard sale, or Goodwill, or something, and had never managed to reread it. Silly me. This book deals with so many issues all at once and the writing and the story are both equally beautiful. Your heart will soar, break, and then piece itself back together. You will cry, laugh, and shy all while angerly cussing out people you have never met… who are fictional…
This book once again brought me back to historical criticism. To save me time, I’ll probably just post my whole jumpstart/paper on here (aren’t you just excited?). I had to review an article dealing with the book, and of course I found something that was historical criticism. I am wondering if this is even a field you can still do? I am very intrigued by it and it combines both of my favorite things into one. Could this be my future? I’ll have to give major props to Dr. Berry if it is.
This book deals with the issue of race, from a child’s point of view. It accomplishes a beautiful message of how the south had those who were fighting for change. It is not only a matter of race however. It deals with drug addiction, growing up, murder, class issues, small town life, history, family ties, education and too many other topics to mention. The story of Boo Radley will have you crying by the end of the book. Scout will keep you honest, as no other narrative could have, and that was something everyone in the class agreed on. The movie (the hour I saw) does a wonderful job, and I had to fight not to cry in some parts. I really need to get my hand on that movie so I can see the whole thing. Harper Lee has my devotion and this was the only novel she ever wrote. I would love to meet her.
I could go on and on about this novel, but I have a million things to do. So, READ IT!!!!
A Mockingbird’s History
In his article, “Prolepsis and Anachronism: Emmet Till and the Historicity of To Kill a Mockingbird” Patrick Chura examines the historical context of To Kill a Mockingbird and whether or not the story represents historical fact. Throughout the article, Chura compares the case of Tom Robinson to that of Emmet Till, analyses the historical context and ideals of the text, and argues that overall “the novel cannot actually be understood within or tied to any single or particular historical period” (23). The arguments that Chura makes convinces the reader of the importance of the novel, as well as the overall historical background behind it.
Patrick Chura begins by stating that though it understood that the novel takes place during the Depression era, “no analysis has attempted to separate the historical conditions of the moment of the text’s production in the mid 1950s from the historical present of the novel, the mid 1930s” (1). He argues that within the paper several of the historical moments mentioned have not actually taken place yet within the time frame of the novel, or the year in which they are presented. Yet, he calls to mind the fact that Scout herself announces she is writing this book from a future perspective, and that Lee intentionally pointed this out. Chura’s overall argument is that “the mid 1950s/early civil rights era is therefore the context from which the novel is best understood as the intersection of cultural and literary ideology” (2). He easily achieves this by comparing the trial of Emmet Till and its surrounding problems in society with those of Tom Robinson and everything that occurs within Maycomb.
Emmet Till’s murder took place in 1955, when he went to visit his family in the Mississippi Delta. The truth of what actually occurred in front of the grocery story has never been known, but some accounts say he whistled at a white lady, while others say he grabbed her hand and said something lewd (23-24). With a few days, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam took the boy from his cabin, shoot him and threw him in the river. After 67 minutes, and plenty of evidence to prove their guilt, the jury announced a verdict of not guilty (23-24). This trial was headline news, and for many a shocking reminder of how far the country still had to go to reach equality for all. Chura believes that this trial inspired the trial of Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird (2). He compares many of the actual figures of the trial and their actions to those of characters in the novel, such as Atticus and Attorney Gerald Chatham, Judge Taylor and Judge Curtis Swango, and Tom Robinson and Emmet Till (8-10). The comparisons of the actions of both characters in the novel and their real counterparts are only part of the overall similarities. Both trials had all white juries, both dealt with racial issues and the fear of interracial sex, and the similarities only begin there (5).
Chura’s examination of both cases, side by side, allows insight into the trial of Maycomb, and what it meant in a larger context. Each comparison furthers the historical context of the novel, showing its basis in the Civil Rights era, and its purpose at examining such a case. For the people of the time period who read this novel would have known about the Emmett Till case and everything surrounding it. It would have spoke to the readers of the 50s as it cannot speak to us. Understanding the problems society was then facing allows us to see what Lee may have hoped to accomplish with this novel, and the intersection of such beliefs allows a better understanding of their culture and our own history.
This article is a historical criticism of To Kill a Mockingbird. Through looking at the historical context of the novel, the facts and the fiction, as well as the history of the writer herself, Chura is able to analyze and better understand the novel itself. His own conclusion about historical criticism, is that “the implied tasks for historicist readings then would seem to be to continue to work with texts in ways which acknowledge always that literary works are the product of more than one discourse or set of material conditions, and to search for concrete terms or strategies for answering the kind of historical questions that arise so frequently in literature as a result of this phenomenon” (23). Chura uses the novel as evidence to further understanding of the time periods it concerns. The combination of the two time periods together does not detract from the novel, but further adds to the statement it is making.
Overall, Chura believes that “imaginative literature that is historically structured tells us as much about the relationship of ideology to material conditions and hegemony as it does about either its period of production or its historical present” (23). I had never thought of fiction as “imaginative literature” and it is a term I rather like. I also agree wholeheartedly with his assessment. Chura manages to use historical facts and weave comparisons between the truth and what is presented in To Kill a Mockingbird. His argument is well written, never dull and dry as often some criticism can be.
One thing I learned from this article was that often Scout’s most important realizations come about in a moment between reality and sleep, in an in-between world (19). When reading the novel, each realization of Scout’s is profound for such a young girl, and yet something the reader is already aware of. Lee’s presentation of a young girl maturing through a difficult situation is low key, but just as equally as important as the aspects of race and society in the novel. Scout’s realization of what had happened in the jailhouse, the comparison of the courtroom and the mad dog, and her ultimate conclusion of the story after hearing Atticus read all occur when he is half-awake or drifting again into sleep and each realization furthers her own understanding of the world (19). Harper Lee wrote this book during a difficult time in the South, and her own realizations about her childhood and the issues of her time influenced this novel and her characters.
Another thing which I did not fully pick up on but which Chura presents is that in the end, Atticus has lost faith in the court system (17). The country as a whole had lost faith that the court system would provide justice as it was meant to, and in the novel, Atticus can no longer believe his own statement that the court systems provide equality for all. When faced with having to shove Boo Radley into a world he would not wish to inhabit, Atticus understands it is better to go with Sherriff Tate’s story of events then expose the very man who saved his children. Scout tells her father that she understands that it would be “like shootin’ a Mockingbird” (18). So, the theme of the novel stands, and one message of the book stands clear – the innocent have been found guilty.
As historical criticism is something I am becoming more and more interested in, I was pleased with this article and what it managed to portray through the understanding of the historical time periods. I learned new facts about the historical background, about the author herself, and about the novel. I am sure I could not have done a better job of presenting the comparisons between the Till case and Robinson’s, or Chura’s argument of the work as a whole. The article was informative, interesting, and educational, while at the same time providing a deeper passion for the novel and everything it accomplished.