Tag Archives: To Kill A Mockingbird

To Kill A Finch


I taught high school for ten years in a rural Southern country school that split about 50/50 in every demographic category from family income to race. In my years there, I tried to pound Romeo and Juliet, Beowulf, The Scarlet Letter, and many other “classics” of the “canon” into the heads of my students to little or no avail. They froze at Faulkner, swore at Steinbeck, spit upon Shakespeare, and freaked over Fitzgerald. Freshmen through Seniors, I taught them all and they were uniform in only two things: a deep, abiding hatred of every “canon” novel save one and a deep, enduring love of that one singular book.

That book, of course, is and was To Kill a Mockingbird, lovingly abbreviated in my lesson plans as TKAM, e.g. “TSWBAT id inferred MI in TKAM chapter 10.”I

No matter the level, race, gender, or present grade of the student, each loved To Kill A Mockingbird in his or her own way. We had some awkward — extremely awkward at times — discussions about race and slavery as one would expect, but we also had some fascinating talks about poverty and social hierarchy. One of my favorite discussions, and one which seems extremely prophetic given what’s going on in our country today, began with me asking the question of my class, “Y’all think anything has really changed since the time period in this novel?” What followed was a quartet of angry young black guys declaring that absolutely nothing had
changed and we spent the rest of the hour talking about explicit versus implicit prejudices and open versus hidden racism. One extremely articulate young man remarked he preferred talking to “rednecks” because “at least with a [Confederate battle] flag wearin’ redneck, I know where I stand. I KNOW what he thinks about me. Some of these ‘polite’ folk, I’m not so sure of.” Finally, when we were wrapping up the novel, several threads would develop, but the one EVERY class noticed was simple — Atticus Finch was a “good man.”

For five and one half decades, the opinion of Atticus Finch as “a good man” has reigned virtually unchallenged except for a few screwballs from either side of the Right / Left spectrum whom Jesus Christ would not be able to please. Atticus has remained the standard of what a lawyer should be, namely the defender of the weak against the strong no matter how foregone the conclusion to the struggle because – in the words of the man himself – it doesn’t matter if you know “you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” That is true moral courage. Few literary characters are held in the esteem so many hold Atticus. I know of no less than five teachers and professors who named their children Atticus because they hoped the name would convey their hopes for their sons’ characters.

Now it seems someone would sling mud upon Atticus’ good name. He who has stood for so long as the paragon of virtue and the sane voice of reason in a world of hate and innuendo is now subjected to what can only be described as slings and arrows of the most outrageous fortune. What makes this slanderous attempt to sully a good man’s reputation is made so much the crueler by its origin. The leader of the pack of dogs who would tear Atticus down from his rightly deserved pedestal atop the list of iconic and heroic characters is none other than Nellie Harper Lee, Atticus’ own inventor — his literary mother as it were.

After five decades of silence, an aging Harper Lee has once again taken the literary world by storm with her publication of Go Set a Watchman. She claims this is the novelTo Kill A Mockingbirdwas supposed to be all those years ago before an editor told her to make Scout younger. I have no idea. What I DO know is this latest novel assassinates Atticus Finch by turning him from a shining light of dignity and decency in Maycomb into a bitter, white robe wearing Klansman. Far from the heroic country lawyer fighting a losing battle against racism, Watchmanpaints him as possibly the most powerful force for racism in the town. As readers, we are left wondering…….WHY?

If this is the novel Lee intended to publish, she should thank the editor who blocked it. This novel is thoroughly post-modern in that it has no heroes, only degrees of villains; it offers no hope, only more despair. It’s as if, as Lee herself enters her dotage years, she insists on dragging Atticus with her.

Love Y’all and keep your feet clean!

Mayday! Mayday! We’re Going Down In Flames!


Unfortunately, that’s not a Led Zeppelin album cover, but a fairly close rendition of the state of my project.

I thought y’all might like a progress report on my project for NaNoWriMo. After all, I did make a big splashy announcement in my last post about how I was going to finally start that novel so many people have been pestering me about. Well, here is my report:


Truthfully, I don’t think Hemingway or Faulkner either one did it this way. Of course, they were most likely drunk during the entire time they were writing so they may not have noticed anyway. The short precise’ is, this has so far been an unmitigated disaster, heavy on the unmitigated-ness. Let me give a bit of a rundown.

First, for over a week before Friday, I would have trouble falling asleep because the characters and plot points were dancing like sugar plums in my feverish little mind. I practically had the entire first chapters ready to go, and I was just waiting on Friday to begin like the rules stated. Woke up Friday ready to start . . . nothing. The blank page with the accusing little blinking cursor at the top was a Xerox of my mind. Everything was gone as completely as degaussed hard drive. I had one page of notes I’d made and I started getting them somewhat organized, but everything else was, to quote Mortal Kombat, “Toasty!”

On top of my sudden loss of information, I started suffering from my first cold of the season. My head was completely stuffed and my chest — the real worry — was as tight as Dick’s hatband. I was wheezing and trying to cough, but the cough was nice and dry and hacky. Long experience with my doctor let me know it would be futile as resisting the Borg to bother scheduling an appointment. Dr. Lopez does not believe in antibiotics for “colds.” I agree, since colds are viral and antibiotics are useless against viruses, but I’ve also suffered from recurring bouts of walking pneumonia since I was in kindergarten so my chest being so tight bothers me. Oh, and there’s the little matter of the rasping and wheezing which didn’t do much for my nerves since it hasn’t been all that long that I watched Mama DIE rasping and wheezing. So, the cold triggered unwanted memories of Mama’s last days sending me into a nice depression that even now is spiraling downward as I write this.

Those little tidbits would be enough to put the quietus on the project but I’m not done recounting this Job-ian disaster just yet. I soldiered on through the weekend typing what I could remember into this amazing new word processing program I found that is JUST FOR NOVELISTS!! It outlines your novel and keeps up with your character biographies and lets you storyboard the plot points . . . using it early Saturday morning had me thinking I’d found a successor to sliced bread. I typed in several character biographies and outlined parts I couldn’t completely remember. I was slowly making headway even as I fought the black dog down from my throat. One of the greatest points of this program is it runs off a flash drive so I can move between computers as the mood to change scenery takes me.

Except . . . it doesn’t.

Nope. I moved from the desktop to my laptop just fine. I typed up a few hundred more words, saved and backed up everything, then took a break. I took the flash drive BACK to the desktop, and that’s where, to quote the band Citizen Kane, “The bottom dropped out.” Not only was my project gone . . . the entire PROGRAM was gone from the thumb drive! I didn’t panic, because I backed everything up on my laptop . . . except I didn’t. While sorting out this whole sordid debacle, I found in the “readme.txt” file on this program (you know the ONE thing people read LESS than the EULA for new software?) that running the program on a jump drive requires you to create an empty .ini file, which I did not. As a result, my project saved partly on the desktop in some strange location and partly on the laptop in an equally strange location. When I FOUND the two projects and tried opening them, Marilyn, my trusty desktop, told me they were corrupted. Well OF COURSE they were!

So, I’m back to square ZERO and if I choose to continue on this path of agony, I’m going back to OpenOffice or MS Word.

I say “if” because of the LAST piece de resistance I discovered last night reading some headlines on MSN. Harper Lee, author of my second favorite novel — To Kill A Mockingbird, is suing her hometown for copyright violations relating to her work and the museum the town erected years ago in her honor. Apparently, as she has gotten older and more infirm, Miss Lee — or someone representing her — has become quite litigious over her sole written work. This isn’t the only lawsuit she has in the works. So, why should I care? Well guess what MY NaNoWriMo project novel was to be based on? The events and some characters from To Kill A Mockingbird!! Well OF COURSE it is!

I had planned a continuation of sorts delving into the behind the scenes actions in the jury deliberation room and the eventual fates of some of the characters. It was all going to be derivative which is supposedly fair use under copyright law, BUT I’ve found the law to be what the judge SAYS it is and the judge SAYS what the person with the highest paid LAWYER wants him to say. I don’t have a lawyer, highly paid or otherwise, so I’m at an impasse. I don’t want to waste time writing unpublishable fan-fic BUT, I don’t want to get sued by a little old lady from south Alabama either.

So, I’m in the shadow of my own end zone and I’m punting. What’s coming next is anyone’s guess but y’all will be among the first to know!

TIl then, love y’all and keep those feet clean.