To Kill a Mockingbird
is a bildungsroman at heart, a racially framed examination of the loss of childhood innocence. While I enjoy the genre, there's something hackneyed about the message; maybe it's the way tough racial issues are dealt with. And while I applaud Atticus' last stand, the novel's rampant symbolism detracts from the novel's real climax in in the courtroom.
It's interesting to note that there's really no sexual content in Mockingbird
-- sure, maybe Scout is too young to be interested, but I think the novel's entire atmosphere is permeated with this anti-sex attitude. Face it: the world of the novel is saccharine. (I'm not alone here; critic Thomas Mallon calls it "moral Ritalin", and Flannery O'Connor remarked that it's pretty popular with adults for a children's book.)Mockingbird
's look at racial tension is gut-wrenching and visceral, but for every powerful moment there are two or three pithy ones involving Scout and Dill or Scout and Jem or Scout and Boo. Even the title smacks of 'meaningful' faux-emotionalism -- what should be an issue of rationality, of basic human equality diappears behind Boo Radley's shadow. Now that may be the only way to allow the reader to process the message, and at first glance Scout seems like the perfect guide. But after further reading, I feel like Scout is somehow incomplete as a narrator. While growing up may mirror civil rights, I don't think we get the entire message; something is lost in translation, just as a child will often miss important details when (s)he tells a story. That doesn't make the story bad, but it means the reader has to parse that much more.
As an analogy, imagine a child explaining the plot of Gravity's Rainbow
to their parents. Sure, they'd explain that there's a rocket and people are trying to find it, but they'd miss out on the technological horror and existential dread and midnight-black humour that goes along with Pynchon's crazy story. In a sense, Scout is telling us the story of her childhood and how race changed her life, but the real themes at work aren't purely distilled.
Of course, Scout functions also as a character, not merely a reader's guide, and the human element of the story is probably the other reason why To Kill a Mockingbird
is so popular. But I wonder if the story would have been better had Jem or Dill narrated.To Kill a Mockingbird
is a bit like being that guy
at the all-you-can-eat buffet: you take a little bit of every salad and one of each type of bread, and pretty soon you're stuffed and you haven't even made it to the main course. In Mockingbird
, instead of a buffet, we're treated to Scout's experiences with Dill, the mystery surrounding Boo Radley, racial issues in the home with Calpurnia, near-Freudian portraits of Atticus, a giant courtroom trial and the biggest racial conflict of our time. But Mockingbird
can't be all those things at once in a 300-page novel; it's either got to be Scout's story or Tom Robinson's (as surrogate for African-Americans in the book). But I hear instead a cacophony of disparate storytelling elements that work separately but not together. Reductionist, perhaps, but critical to understanding where I think Mockingbird