Wednesday, October 20, 2010

to kill a mockingbird

18. Read or re-read 5 of "the classics." - In progress.

Just under two months ago I was doing this.  Laying on the beach with a good book, ALONE.  My sister proved her awesomeness once again and offered to take Sadira for a walk on the boardwalk so I could get some good beach reading time in. 

It. Was. Heaven.

It was one of those moments that I get so rarely these days that I almost didn't know what to do with myself.  I was actually giddy with excitement at the thought of being able to relax on the beach, with a good book, and zero responsibilities.  The only thing that would've made it better would've been to have some hot young stud feeding me chocolates, but then I guess that's getting a little greedy, huh?

When I was young I used to read a TON. So much that my friend Amanda and I used to have our own little book exchange because we'd fly through books so quickly.  Babysitter's Club, Sweet Valley High, we had them all.  When I got into high school I started having less time for reading.  I still enjoyed it, but I was forced to enjoy the books I was assigned to read, instead of ones I chose on my own.  This only got worse in college.  My reading was pretty limited to giant textbooks and reading for enjoyment was a concept I could no longer understand...

Except when I was on vacation.

At the beach I could put my school brain on pause.  I remember vacationing in Bethany Beach one year with my mom and in one week I plowed through 9 books.  NINE!  I don't think I had read that many books in the entire year, and here I was bookworming it up.  There really is nothing better that laying out in the sun, on the beach, getting lost in a good book.

Nowadays I'm STILL in school (GOD HELP ME IN THESE LAST 6 WEEKS!!!!), working full time and spending every free moment I can with my sassy little toddler.  As much as I'd love to dedicate time to reading, it's just never been enough of a priority because there are always a million and one things I need to do.  

I need to finish my homework.
I need to do the laundry.
I need to put away the dishes.
I need to put away all of these files.
I need to wash my car, it's filthy.
I need to go the bank.
I need to switch out Sadira's spring/summer clothes for her fall/winter ones.
I need to plan her birthday party.
I need to figure out a topic for my final paper.
I need to finish my competitive analysis project for work.
I need to run some SPSS reports.
I need to start moisturizing more.
I need to get my hair trimmed.
I need to figure out what we're having for dinner tonight.
I need to, I need to, I need to...

Those are truly all the things I need to do at this very moment just off the top of my head.  Yet here I am, writing this blog instead of doing any of them.  The truth is, there's always going to be a list of things "I need" to do at any given moment, but I also NEED TO take time for myself, to put my brain on pause, and to let myself relax.

I'm also a master at procrastination, but that's another topic for another day!

When I put #18 on the list, I figured that if I gave myself a reason to read, I could re-capture the love that I used to have for reading, while also giving myself a break from all of the "I needs" of the day.  Truth is, I've always noticed this really cool thing that happens when I finish a good book--or even get a few chapters in--and that is, I feel refreshed and calm.  Does this happen to other people?  It's so interesting to me, because the simple act of turning off my own brain and putting my own life on pause while I allow myself to drift into someone else's story relaxes me.

So consider this a task of forced relaxation. 

As I mentioned back in the end of June, I first chose To Kill A Mockingbird to kick off completing #18.  And now that I've read it I can be one of those cool people that abbreviate it to TKAM.  Score!  I started this book at the end of June, and then July ended up being a month of torture in the semester from hell, so needless to say when I went to the beach at the end of August I still had at least half of the book to finish off.

Lucky for me it's a great read, I had plenty of time to do nothing that week, and I finished it off in two days.

So here we go, my thoughts on TKAM.

Without sounding like I'm writing a formal book report, I'll condense this novel to say it's the story of Scout and Jem Finch, daughter and son of Attiticus Finch, a lawyer, in the town of Maycomb, Alabama in the 1930s.  The book is split into two parts, with the first part setting the scene in Maycomb, introducing the reader to the various characters and family members who come in and out of the Finch's lives and giving delicious descriptives of how Jem and Scout spend their days.  The second part of the book focuses on the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man who is accused of raping a young white girl.  Atticus is Tom Robinson's defense lawyer.  It's this part of the book that's truly the meat and potatoes of the novel.  While Atticus is typically well respected in Maycomb, there are many people in the town who have split opinions about him defending Tom Robinson.  As the novel progresses, Tom Robinson's non-guilt seems obvious as Atticus lays out the evidence and appeals to the jury to make the right decision.  As a reader, you also see the backlash that Scout and Jem, who are only nine and eleven years old, suffer as a result of their father's job.

I'll leave it there as to not spoil the end of the book for those who haven't read it, but suffice it to say that I began Part Two of this book having just climbed into a hot bath at the end of a long day at the beach and I did not get out until the bath water had long been cold because I couldn't put the novel down.

I thought I had read this book before, or maybe at least parts in high school, but I honestly felt like I was reading it for the first time, with fresh eyes all over again.  Specifically in the second part of the book there are two major things that happened and when I read them I think I actually said out loud, "no way!"  At one point I remember exclaiming to my sister, "you will NOT believe what just happened!!" A page turner, for sure.

At the beginning of the book I was certain that Scout, the narrator of the book, was also the protagonist; however as the story developed I determined that the real protagonist was Atticus Finch. There are two notable passages that I highlighted in the book that I think really speak to Atticus' character.

First is at the end of the Part One.  Jem is in big trouble for cutting the tops off of Mrs. Dubose's camellia bushes in a fit of rage.  Mrs. Dubose is a crotchety old lady who had said some pretty horrible things to the children about their father, because of the Tom Robinson case.  Jem, of course, defends his father, and went off on the old bat.  Despite the fact that Jem was defending him, Atticus sends Jem down to apologize to Mrs. Dubose.  At one point Scout says this of Atticus, "For the life of me, I did not understand how he could sit there in cold blood and read a newspaper when his only son stood an excellent change of being murdered with a Confederate Army relic." 

When Scout explains to Atticus that Jem was only defending him against the horrible things that Mrs. Dubose had said about him, Atticus explains, "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."

Love that!

Of course Mrs. Dubose does not murder Jem with an Army relic, but his punishment is to read to her every day for a month. It's at this point that we learn that Mrs. Dubose is very ill, and addicted to morphine.  She knew she was dying.  After she passes Atticus explains to Jem why he had sent him to her.  He says, "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.  Mrs. Dubose won, all ninety-eight pounds of her.  According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody.  She was the bravest person I ever knew."

The second passage is lengthy.  It's actually Atticus' entire lecture to the courtroom and jury at the of Tom Robinson's trial.  The entire thing is pretty impressive, but I'll just mention a few passages here.  It's important to remember that these are the words of Atticus, a white man, defending Tom Robinson, a black man who was already thought to be guilty by many before the trial even began, in the 1930s.

Atticus: "Which, gentlemen, we know is in itself a lie as black as Tom Robinson's skin, a lie I do not have to point out to you.  You know the truth, and the truth is this: some Negroes lie, some Negroes are immoral, some Negro men are not to be trusted around women--black or white.  But this is a truth that applies to the human race and to no particular race of men.  There is not person in this courtroom who has never told a lie, who has never done an immoral thing, and there is no man living who has never looked upon a women without desire."

"But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal--there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president.  That institution, gentleman, is a court.  It can be the Supreme Court of the United States or your humblest J.P. court in the land, or this honorable court which you serve.  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."

Finally, when Atticus is debriefing Jem and Scout after the trial, trying to teach them a lesson from all of the day's heavy events, he says, "The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow, but people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box.  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."

And so this is what we learn from Atticus Finch. He is probably the most upright and moral character within the entire novel.  He believes in being fair, open-minded, generous, judicious and honest.  He symbolizes the moral ideal of a lawyer, father, and human being.  He is a pacifist, and a tireless crusader for good causes. 

The world needs more Atticus Finch's in it, I think.

So in just a few days at the beach, I managed to finish To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee in addition to Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (FABULOUS and worthy of its own blog post) and Little Kids Big City by Alex McCord and Simon Van Kempen (yes, THAT Alex and Simon, DON'T JUDGE).

And in the words of the great Jay-Z, "I'm on to the next one" and that one is......

THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(I'm just a little excited about this one...)


Lindsey said...

Oh skip Great Gatsby and go straight to the good stuff... Tender is the Night, baby!!!

So proud of you for finishing TKAM. :D But slightly ashamed that you think Atticus is the protagonist. Obviously, BOO RADLEY is the protagonist, hahahaha! NOT!

Nasrene said...

Oh girl, you KNOW I read that crazy tale, Lindz!! He did, after all, write it while living just north of Baltimore very close to my college campus--while Zelda was at Sheppard Pratt, a psychiatric hospital that still is there today!!!

Love me some wacky F. Scott and Zelda!!

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