FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF THE BOOK:
I’m really enjoying To Kill A Mockingbird, which I think is really encouraging! We’ve only had to read chapters 1-9 so far (if it’s been a while since you’ve read the book you can check out the summary for the chapters here), but I already feel like this book is going to be the best book that we have to read for English this year. It’s by far more interesting than Haroun and the Sea of Stories and easier to relate to since it’s a story based around American history, and it’s infinitely easier to read than the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn since the vocabulary of the book is easier to understand and there is a better storyline in TKAM than there is in Huck Finn.
I feel like this story is also greatly improved by the fact that Scout is the narrator of the story. Her narration of the story using both reflection on the story as an adult and more direct narration of the situations as a child provides a look at more serious situations with a sense of childhood innocence, but also allows there to be internal reflection on the book from adult Scout. I also feel like Scout is a very likable and relatable character which helps people to be able to almost “step into her skin and walk around in it” and experience the plot of the book as though we were a part of it ourselves. It is certainly hard to understand the lives of others, as Atticus puts it “You never really understand a
person until you consider things from his point of view”, and since many people have parts of their lives that they keep hidden from the rest of the world, it’s often very difficult to look at the world exactly the way that another person does. Because we know all of Scout’s secrets and we are given a direct view of how she sees the world, her narration provides us with a metaphorical doorway into Maycomb County and eliminates the barrier that is usually present between different people’s experiences. This level of narration is very different from that of other the other stories that we’ve read so far this year, and I feel like that’s why this story is much different and in many ways better than Haroun and Huck Finn.
Everyone in the class has been assigned a main character to follow throughout the story, and I was put into the lucky group that gets to analyze two characters: Boo Radley and Calpurnia. Although I was annoyed at having to analyze two characters when the groups were first assigned, I do really like both of the characters that I’ve been assigned and I think that they’re both very interesting characters who play key roles in the story.
I think that Calpurnia is a sweet character despite Scout’s distaste of her, and I think that Scout would be a very different character had she not had Calpurnia’s influence on her life. Calpurnia acts as a mother figure to Scout since Scout’s mother died when she was so young, as can be seen with how Calpurnia fusses over Scout. Calpurnia is always keeping Scout within “calling distance” and teaching her important things like how to write and how to properly treat all kinds of people no matter how one may see them. Without Calpurnia’s influence, Scout wouldn’t be the charismatic, smart girl that she is in the story, and I think that Atticus realizes this and greatly values Calpurnia’s presence in Scout’s life, which is why he says, “I’ve no intention of getting rid of her now, or ever.We couldn’t operate a single day without Cal, have you ever thought of that? You think about how much Cal does for you, and you mind her, you hear?”
I think that Boo Radley is a really interesting character that still very unknown at this point in the book. What I found really interesting about the story whenever it mentioned Boo Radley is the fact that it never featured any input from Boo himself. Everyone seems to know “everything” about Boo’s life, but he has no say in it at all and his feelings are never a part of the narrative that is circulated throughout the town. This leads to Boo being dehumanized in the county, almost treated as a phenomenon or a myth instead of people taking the time to realize that Boo is a person who has been severely mistreated for over a decade of his life. This really struck me when Dill was trying to get Jem to make Boo come out of the house and Jem related it to making a turtle come out of his shell:
“Dill said striking a match under a turtle was hateful. . . .
“How do you know a match don’t hurt him?”
“Turtles can’t feel, stupid,” said Jem.
“Were you ever a turtle, huh?”“
This quote really struck me because just because turtles aren’t human and can’t communicate their feelings, Jem thinks that they can’t feel pain and they don’t experience things the way that other living beings do. This is exactly what has happened with with Boo, where he has no way to communicate with others and let them know how he feels, so many people can’t begin to interpret what kind of feelings Boo has. This interpretation of Boo makes him a very misunderstood character, and I think that Boo is not nearly as bad or insidious as everyone in the county makes him out to be.
In our discussion about TKAM today, I feel like the most poignant part of the discussion was when we talked about why Jem was crying after the knot in the tree was filled with cement. I personally thought that Jem was crying because he finally realized that Boo is a real person who has been mistreated for so much of his life. Many other people in the class felt that Jem was actually crying because Jem would miss the gifts that Boo had been giving them in the tree, and would he missed that small bit of joy and excitement that he used to get from finding something new in the tree. I thought that it was interesting how people interpreted this differently, and I think that it shows how Harper Lee carefully formulated the novel in a way that gives many people different understandings of its meanings, making it a very objective story that gives more depth to the plot overall.
Although the discussion that we had today in class was fairly good, I think that many people are still unsure about the book many aspects and I think that there are still many questions as to how the book should be interpreted. I think that one question that would be good to ask for next week would be “What aspects of the story would be different if Boo was able to communicate his side of the story with the rest of the town” since that’s just a general question that I’ve been asking myself and I think would spur good discussion, and I also think that it would bring to light how different interpretations of something can change one’s thoughts. Another good question to ask would be “Is Boo the only one with a secret life?” I think that secret lives play a very important part in the story, and although the obvious secret life in the story is Boo’s since we don’t really know anything about him, but I think that many people in the county are probably hiding things as well. Scout may not be able to see it since she’s still very innocent, but I think that looking at other characters and what they may be hiding could provide a fuller insight on the community and further develop the story.