Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird #BannedBooksWeek #theclassicsclub

I finally read this book over the summer. Long overdue!

I'm not going to go on and on about the literary genius of this book. We already know it's a Pulitzer Prize winning novel. We also know that it is a beloved classic around the world, and it made PBS's Great American Read 100 Favorites list (voting is still open, until October 18). What I want to do is share a few thoughts about it, and what it meant to me. I loved it. I literally hugged it when I finished. Not kidding.

Lee perfectly captured small town life in 1930's America. She got the inner mechanics right and she shrewdly depicted the people. Most importantly, she brought to light the true nature of race relations of the time. It's sad think we really haven't made much progress in all these years that have passed (I don't care what anyone says, racism is still alive and real in this country).

It's my opinion that racism (and other social judgment) are learned behaviors. I believe that point is proven when reading this book with these hard issues told from the point of view of children. This quote from Jem is quite telling on the matter...

“If there's just one kind of folks, why can't they get along with each other? If they're all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other? Scout, I think I'm beginning to understand something. I think I'm beginning to understand why Boo Radley's stayed shut up in the house all this time. It's because he wants to stay inside.” 

Another point touched on by Atticus regarding Christians who do not think racism is wrong. This is something that I have struggled with personally and is part of that which eventually led me away from Christianity and religion in general. How can someone profess to be a Christian and yet support some of the most abject in society (Trump, KKK, and so on)? It's truly mind boggling.

“Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of (another)... There are just some kind of men who - who're so busy worrying about the next world they've never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.”

“They're certainly entitled to think that, and they're entitled to full respect for their opinions... but before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience.”

Finally, since it is Banned Books Week, I wanted to touch on some of the reasons this book has been frequently challenged over the years. In fact, it is on the list of the top 10 most challenged books of 2017. 

  • 2017: This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, considered an American classic, was challenged and banned because of violence and its use of the N-word.
  • 2011: offensive language, racism
  • 2009: offensive language, racism, unsuited to age group
The challenge of To Kill A Mockingbird was a big censorship story of 2017:

After a mother told a superintendent that her son was uncomfortable with the N-word in To Kill a Mockingbird, the novel was removed from the eighth-grade curriculum at Biloxi Public Schools (Mississippi) in the middle of teaching it, without following policy. After national outcry, the book is available to be taught as an optional assignment with parental permission. Learn more on the Intellectual Freedom Blog.

The book is also on the Banned and Challenged Classics list for one of the most frequently challenged classics. Here are the list of reasons over the years (since 1977):
  • Challenged in Eden Valley, MN (1977) and temporarily banned due to words "damn" and "whore lady" used in the novel.
  • Challenged in the Vernon Verona Sherill, NY School District (1980) as a "filthy, trashy novel."
  • Challenged at the Warren, IN Township schools (1981) because the book does "psychological damage to the positive integration process" and "represents institutionalized racism under the guise of good literature." After unsuccessfully trying to ban Lee's novel, three black parents resigned from the township human relations advisory council.
  • Challenged in the Waukegan, IL School District (1984) because the novel uses the word "nigger."
  • Challenged in the Kansas City, MO junior high schools (1985). Challenged at the Park Hill, MO Junior High School (1985) because the novel "contains profanity and racial slurs." Retained on a supplemental eighth grade reading list in the Casa Grande, AZ Elementary School District (1985), despite the protests by black parents and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People who charged the book was unfit for junior high use.
  • Challenged at the Santa Cruz, CA Schools (1995) because of its racial themes. Removed from the Southwood High School Library in Caddo Parish, LA (1995) because the book's language and content were objectionable.
  • Challenged at the Moss Point, MS School District (1996) because the novel contains a racial epithet. Banned from the Lindale, TX advanced placement English reading list (1996) because the book "conflicted with the values of the community."
  • Challenged by a Glynn County, GA (2001) School Board member because of profanity. The novel was retained. Returned to the freshman reading list at Muskogee, OK High School (2001) despite complaints over the years from black students and parents about racial slurs in the text.
  • Challenged in the Normal, IL Community High School's sophomore literature class (2003) as being degrading to African Americans.
  • Challenged at the Stanford Middle School in Durham, NC (2004) because the 1961 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel uses the word "nigger." 
  • Challenged at the Brentwood, TN Middle School (2006) because the book contains “profanity” and “contains adult themes such as sexual intercourse, rape, and incest.” The complainants also contend that the book’s use of racial slurs promotes “racial hatred, racial division, racial separation, and promotes white supremacy.” 
  • Retained in the English curriculum by the Cherry Hill, NJ Board of Education (2007). A resident had objected to the novel’s depiction of how blacks are treated by members of a racist white community in an Alabama town during the Depression. The resident feared the book would upset black children reading it. 
  • Removed (2009) from the St. Edmund Campion Secondary School classrooms in Brampton Ontario, Canada because a parent objected to language used in the novel, including the word “nigger."
I'll leave you with one final thought (I feel like I'm channeling Atticus here). It doesn't matter how much of a Christian you are, or how much of a good person you (think) you are, or how good you are to your fellow parishioners, friends, family. If you harbor even a smidgen of racism in your heart, you just are not a good person. That's just the honest truth.

“As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it—whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.” 

Banned Books Week information obtained from

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  1. Great post on a great book—I enjoyed reading it with you this summer, and I think your quotes and analysis are spot on.

  2. This is definitely a book I need to read! I'm a Christian and can't even fathom how people support Trump. Seriously. My mom and I talk about this all the time and are baffled by it.

  3. Not being black, I can't speak to any part of their objections. I've always thought it's best to keep reminding folks that this kind of language was common in the time the book is set in. And what better place to read it than in school where that can be addressed and discussed? I would think their bigger problem with the book is the idea of a white savior. But, again, a good teaching moment. And there is just so much to love about this book!

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