[Five Deadly Everythings]

Is “To Kill a Mockingbird” worth its praise?

Posted in books, race, reading is dead by Jef on July 6, 2010

From the Wall Street Journal comes a piece I’ll call contrarian, but only for lack of a better word.

It’s time to stop pretending that “To Kill a Mockingbird” is some kind of timeless classic that ranks with the great works of American literature. Its bloodless liberal humanism is sadly dated, as pristinely preserved in its pages as the dinosaur DNA in “Jurassic Park.”

Harper Lee’s contemporary and fellow Southerner Flannery O’Connor (and a far worthier subject for high-school reading lists) once made a killing observation about “To Kill a Mockingbird”: “It’s interesting that all the folks that are buying it don’t know they are reading a children’s book.”

The reason I’m reluctant to call it contrarian — though that is the tone being used here — is that I’ve ALWAYS regarded “To Kill a Mockingbird” as young adult fiction. There’s the children protagonists, the strange house down the street, the boy named “Boo Radley.” That it carries some heavy themes and explores real-world issues shouldn’t confuse anyone into thinking otherwise, because all the best YA fiction does exactly those things.

There is something to writer Allen Barra’s argument though. Harper Lee’s book never stuck with me, and even in Grade 10 when we had to read it, I felt it wasn’t as good as my teacher was saying it was. Aside from all of this, too, is the other question that should be asked: we had to read Lee’s sole work and also John Howard Griffin’s “Black Like Me” — why are all the books we use to teach children about racism written by white people? A show of hands in the comments from anyone whose highschool syllabus included Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man”.

(title card image — because I love me some title cards — via)


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