Tuesday, August 7, 2012

To Kill A Mockingbird

Books are like threads on the floor of my sewing room, one thread leads to another and another.  I like to read history when it sheds light on my own being and interests.  When I started researching Welsh quilts, I started reading about everything I could find related to Wales, the quiltmakers and the whole social fabric of Wales during the quiltmaking.  Welsh quilts led me to study the decorative patterns that people have used across history and that resulted in a collection of Dover books and some really awesome books published by British libraries.  When my dad was doing a family geneology, I got interested in Wiltshire, England where his forefathers seemed to have settled near a local landmark after crossing the channel in 1066 with a well-known Norman.  Anyway, when I get interested in something, I turn to books and so I have hundreds of them.  I have books about art, theology, jewelry, metalworking, design, history and so on and on but the one thing they all have in common is that they are all non-fiction. 

I haven't read a novel in years but that all changed when we were looking for something to watch on Netflix Instant one night and came across a documentary about Harper Lee and the only book she ever wrote, To Kill A Mockingbird.  My fascination with people and history took over as I watched the program and by the time it was over, Harper Lee was my new hero and I really needed to get  a copy of the book to read. 

Barnes and Noble was quick to meet my latest book fix but due to a busy life at the time, I wasn't able to start the book until this past Sunday evening.  I have had a very hard time putting it down, it's now Tuesday morning and there are now only five chapters left to read.  I know how the book turns out (because of the documentary) but that hasn't been a problem, the story is too spellbinding to let go.  All the characters have been introduced and have played their part in the story but it's not over yet.  The book is written from the perspective of a young girl nicknamed Scout and I really relate to her and how she  struggles to make sense of the world around her.

The part of the story that really touched me was the part leading up to the trial during which Scout's father, Atticus Finch, would defend a black man against an allegation from a white woman.  The ugliness of bigotry raises it's ugly head and Atticus is accused of being a 'nigger lover' by people in the community and his own family, some more discreetly than others.  It generally isn't said to his face but the purpose is clear, intimidation.  Atticus is expected to do the 'right thing' by the standards of a 1930's Southern town that generally sees black people as 'niggers', expected to stay in their 'place' and of course, the culture of bigotry has decided where that place is.  But Atticus puts together an awesome defense of the doomed Tom Robinson and cracks start appearing in the bigot culture but it won't be enough to help Tom, the change won't come soon enough to save him.

This book was written in 1960 about the 1930's but the book is timeless.  As I listen to the news, I hear verbal assaults on free speech by people with influence and power with the same purpose of calling Atticus a 'nigger lover' in the book, it's all about intimidation.  The message is the same "shut up and go along with the correct social agenda, do as you're told or you'll be called a bigot, a hate-monger".  The slurs are different but the message is the same.  Freedom to speak up and express ideas is so vital to the human community, without freedom of speech, we risk slipping into an intellectual dark ages.  (There is research showing that this has already started).

But a war of words won't solve the problem either and that's where I go back to the book.  Throughout the book, there are all sorts of characters who don't accept the racial status quo and abuse of the blacks and while they aren't the voice of the community, they stand firm and don't give up.  Scout's dad, Atticus has his hands full teaching his hot-headed little girl how to respond to the words and situation and it's an uphill battle, but Scout is experiencing new things along the way and building relationships with all sorts of people and even though I have five chapters to go, I can see that she's going to come out of this drama as a person I'd would want to know well. 

Thank you Harper Lee for writing this book.  I wish you had written more but I don't know how any book could follow To Kill A Mockingbird.