Tuesday, June 22, 2010

To Kill a Mockingbird

A keeper of a story, be it on paper or screen, because it comes from the heart and it grips the soul.

To me the best type of story is the one that never leaves you.  The one that lingers long after the last page has been turned and the cover closed.  The one whose story continues in your mind and you wonder wherever did the characters go from there...  it haunts you and invades you and becomes you.  And again and again, you return to it, in your mind and in your heart, it's magic ever present, it's lessons ever learned and long remembered.  That is the type of story I want to write, that is the type of writer I want to be: one who reaches and touches and lingers long, long, long beyond the very last word: a story like "To Kill a Mockingbird," and a writer like Harper Lee.

There are so many lessons to be learned amongst these pages - so much so, I'm amazed by the innocent voice of this story.  Amazed ever still that the author never published again.  Such honesty and purity mixed together.  So thought provoking and entertaining and haunting...  Such a sadness I feel, and yet such a joy, too.  I have a surge of emotions running thru me but what most comes to mind are two of my favorite words ever:  bittersweet and melancholy.  I'm moody over the sadness of truth within it's pages.  I'm melancholy for the love between parent and child.  I long for the simplistic way of life in 1935, yet I rage over the injusticed way of life of 1935.  I'm bittersweet for the talent rampant thru the pages, wondering how Harper Lee pulled that off, how she succeeded in bringing that all together, and contemplating how will I ever, ever be able to do the same?  And if I can't should I even bother?  "Masterpiece" is not a strong enough word for me to capture exactly what I'm feeling and thinking about this phenomenal story - and I can't express it so I might as well stop trying.  It took me three days to pull my thoughts together from this book.  I had to re-read it once, then I read it again as I pushed thru this assignment.  And still my heart swells, as do my eyes, as I envision and relive every step of the way.  Every single step.

Despite being absorbed in the story itself, and oh-so-intent to "get it" (but did I really?  Soooo thinking of getting the Cliff Notes and doing a private study... hmmm... oh, but I digress!) - so, despite being absorbed in the story itself, and oh-so-intent to "get it," I captured some poignant points that relate to our world today - points about equality, and talent, and government programs, and morals, and values and human nature.  Amazing stuff!  And again, back to an earlier point of mine:  how'd she do it?  How'd Harper Lee know all that stuff, much less express it within the folds of an intricate story, woven so well you don't even realize you're getting the lesson...  Amazing, amazing, amazing!  I have a new hero today and her name is Harper Lee.   

To Kill a Mockingbird:
... that there were other ways of making people into ghosts.

Miss Caroline seemed unaware that the ragged, denim-shirted and floursacked first grade, most of whom had chopped cotton and fed hogs from the time they were able to walk, were immune to imaginitive literature.

Miss Caroline told me to tell my father to not teach me any more, it would interfere with my reading.

"It's best to begin reading with a fresh mind."

Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read.  One does not love breathing.

"Are we poor, Atticus?"  Atticus nodded.  "We are indeed."

"...that is a sad house."

"Atticus Fince is the same in his house as he is on the public streets."

Furthermore, had it never occurred to us that the civil way to communicate with another being was by the front door instead of the side window?

The second grade was grim, but Jem assured me that the older I got the better school would be, that he started off the same way, and it was not until one reached sixth grade that one learned anything of value.

Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I'd have the facts.

There are no clearly defined seasons in South Alabama; summer drifts into autumn, and autumn is sometimes never followed by winter, but turns into day-old spring that melts into summer again.

...Jem and I  were trotting in our orbit one mild October afternoon...

"It's bad children like you makes the seasons change."

"... but from now on I'll never worry about what'll become of you, son, you'll always have an idea."

"...you just hold your head high and keep those fists down."

"Try fighting with your head for a change... it's a good one, even if it does resist learning."

"Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win," Atticus said.

"This time we aren't fighting the Yankees, we're fighting our friends.  But remember this, no matter how bitter things get, they're still our friends and this is still our home."

It was the first time I ever walked away from a fight.

When stalking one's prey, it is best to take one's time.  Say nothing, and  as sure as eggs he will become curious and emerge.

"When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness' sake."

"No, the answer is she knows I know she tries.  That's what makes the difference."

Our father didn't do anything.  He worked in an office, not in a drugstore.  Atticus did not drive a dump-truck for the county, he was not the sheriff, he did not farm, work in a garage, or do anything that could possibly arouse the admiration of anyone.

"Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."

"You're lucky, you know.  You and Jem have the benefit of your father's age.  If your father was thirty you'd find life quite different."

Nothing is more deadly than a deserted, waiting street.

"People in their right minds never take pride in their talents," said Miss Maudie.

"Atticus is a gentleman, just like me!"  (Jem Finch)

"...it's never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name.  It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn't hurt you."

"She said she was going to leave this world beholden to nothing and nobody."

"I wanted you to see something about her - I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand.  It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.  You rarely win, but sometimes you do."

...but one must lie under certain circumstances and at all times when one can't do anything about them.

When Aunt Alexandra went to school, self-doubt could not be found in any textbook, so she knew not its meaning.  She was never bored, and given the slightest chance she would exercise her royal prerogative: she would arrange, advise, caution and warn.

Somewhere I had received the impression that Fine Folks were people who did the best they could with the sense they had...

"Mr. Cunningham's basically a good man," he said, "he just has his blind spots along with the rest of us."

"A mob's always made up of people, no matter what."

"Atticus Finch is a deep reader, a mighty deep reader."

Our nightmare had gone with daylight, everything would come out all right.

"People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for..."

Never, never, never, on cross-examination ask a witness a question you don't already know the answer to, was a tenet I absorbed with my baby-food.  Do it, and you'll often get an answer you don't want, an answer that might wreck your case.

(regarding the phrase "All Men Are Created Equal")  "There is a tendancy in this year of grace, 1935, for certain people to use this phase out of context, to satisfy all conditions.  The most ridiculous example I can think of is that the people who run public education promote the stupid and idle along with the industrious - because all men are created equal, educators will gravely tell you, the children left behind suffer terrible feelings of inferiority.  We know all men are not created equal in the sense some people would have us believe - some people are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity because they're born with it, some men make more money than others, some ladies make better cakes than others - some people are born gifted beyond the normal scope of men."

"Our courts have their faults, as does any human institution, but in this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are created equal."

"Gentlemen, a court is no better than each man of you sitting before me on this jury.  A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up."

A deserted, waiting, empty street, and the courtroom was packed with people. 

A steaming summer night was no different from a winter morning.

I saw something only a lawyer's child could be expected to see, could be expected to watch for, and it was like watching Atticus walk into the street, raise a rifle to his shoulder and pull the trigger, but watching all the time knowing that the gun was empty.   A jury never looks at a defendant it has convicted, and when this jury came in, not one of them looked at Tom Robinson.

"This is their home, sister," said Atticus.  "We've made it thsi way for them, they might as well learn to cope with it."

"I don't know, but they did it.  They've done it before and they did it tonight and they'll do it again and when they do it - seems that only children weep."

"Don't fret, Jem.  Things are never as bad as they seem."

"Yes, sir, a clown," he said.  "There ain't one thing in this world I can do about folks except laugh, so I'm gonna join the circus and laugh my head off."  "You got it backwards, Dill," said Jem.  "Clowns are sad, it's folks that laugh at them."

"We generally get the juries we deserve."

"Serving on a jury forces a man to make up his mind and declare himself about something."

"Atticus said one time the reason Aunty's so hipped on the family is because all we've got's background and not a dime to our names."

After all, if Aunty could be a lady at a time like this, so could I.

" 'Equal rights for all, special privileges for none'," I quoted.

Atticus said Jem is trying hard to forget something, but what he was really doing was storing it away for a while, until enough time passed.  Then he would be able to think about it and sort things out.

Occassionally there was a sudden breeze that hit my bare legs, but it was all that remained of a promised windy night.  This was the stillness before a thunderstorm.  We listened.

One's mind works very slowly at times.

She brought me something to put on, and had I thought about it then, I would have never let her forget it: in her distraction, Aunty brought me my overalls.

"Boys his age bounce."

His age was beginning to show, his one sign of inner turmoil: the strong line of his jaw melted a little, one became aware of telltale creases forming under his ears, one noticed not his jet-black hair but the gray patches growing at his temples.

"... - why, if we followed our feelings all the time we'd be like cats chasin' their tails."

"Mr. Finch, there's just some kind of men you have to shoot before you can say hidy to 'em."

People have the habit of doing everyday things even under the oddest conditions.

"Best way to clear the air is to have it all out in the open."

"If this thing's hushed up it'll be a simple denial to Jem of the way I've tried to raise him.  Sometimes I think I'm a total failure as a parent, but I'm all they've got.  Before Jem looks at anyone else he looks at me, and I've tried to live so I can look squarely back at him... if I connived at something like this, frankly I couldn't meet his eye, and the day I can't do that I'll know I've lost him.  I don't want to lose him and Scout, because they're all I've got."

"I can't live one way in town and another way in my home."

"Let the dead bury the dead this time, Mr. Finch.  Let the dead bury the dead."

"To my way of thinkin', Mr. Finch, taking the one man who's done you and this town a great service an' draggin' him with his shy ways into the limelight - to me, that's a sin.  It's a sin and I'm not about to have it on my head.  If it was any other man it'd be different.  But not this man, Mr. Finch."

"Thank you for my children, Arthur," he said.

"Will you take me home?"

I would lead him through our house, but I would never lead him home.

His fingers found the front doorknob.  He gently released my hand, opened the door, went inside, and shut the door behind him.  I never saw him again.

Neighbors bring food with death and flowers with sickness and little things in between.  Boo was our neighbor.  He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good luck pennies, and our lives.  But neighbors give in return.  We never put back into the tree what we took out of it: we had given him nothing, and it made me sad.

Atticus was right.  One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.  Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.

As I made my way home, I thought Jem and I would get grown but there wasn't much else for us to learn, except possibly algebra.

"Besides nothin's real scary except in books."

"...Atticus, he was real nice..." 
"Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them."

And, probably my most favorite line of the whole book isn't within the story's pages, but lies upon the prelude page:  Lawyers, I suppose, were children once. ~Charles Lamb~

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