To Kill a Mockingbird and the Bildungsroman

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most recognizable pieces of literature to ever come out of the south, and its film adaptation is arguably just as iconic. The characters and the drama is spot on with the original, and Lee herself once said, “In that film, the man and the part met. As far as I’m concerned, that part is Greg’s for life.(Freeland). in regards to Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus. But due to the time constraints of the silver screen, much of Scout’s own personal growth was overshadowed by the drama surrounding Atticus and the trial of Tom Robinson. By shifting the premise of the story from one of self-discovery to a trial drama they both end up telling very different yet equally compelling stories.

In the novel, the events taking place in Maycomb, Alabama are told through the eyes of six year old Scout. Not only does it focus on the racial injustices present in the early 20th century south, it also focuses on Scout’s own personal growth and her fundamental understanding of the world around her and the humanity held by all people. The first person narration of the novel is imperative to the childlike view of her world and is essential to see the personal growth she endures as events unfold. This is something that is lost in the film adaptation and it shifts the frame of the story from that of Scout’s own growth to the nobility of her father Atticus and the misadventures of her brother Jem. The movie opens with a brief narration at the beginning and end, but the first person perspective becomes muddled in much of the ensuing action in Maycomb.

Many of Scout’s formative events in the book are also cut in the adaptation to film such as finding the trinkets in the knothole of the Radley’s oak tree (which was shifted to Jem instead), many of her and the boys’ attempts to contact Boo, the scene in which she and Jem attend church with Calpurnia, and the tyranny of Aunt Alexandra. By making these decisions the movie narrows the focus of the movie to two or three large moments to characterize the racism laying under the surface in Maycomb such as the mad dog and the drama of the Robinson trial.

By isolating the incident of the dog and the trial, the movie chooses to shift the action away from the bildungsroman of the original novel in an attempt to characterize the injustices taking place in the south. The scene with the mad dog puts Atticus-the noble characterization of the southern white liberal- against Tim Johnson who signifies the deep-set racism and mob mentality held by the residents of Maycomb. By shooting the dog he shows his conviction to his values and is characterized as the only person able to take on the racism of the town. By saying to Jem, “Don’t go near him, he’s just as dangerous dead as alive.”(Lee 111), it illustrates that no matter the outcome of the trial the racism in Maycomb will linger after it’s done. This scene is pivotal in two ways in the novel, not only for the symbolic meaning of killing the mad dog but in a very tangible way for Scout and Jem as it rocks the very foundation of what they know of their father and grants them more respect for his methods.

The trial itself is a pivotal moment for the film in which the symbolic racism becomes tangible for the audience. The execution of the trial scene was nearly perfect in its illustration of the ugly face of racism in the south at the time. A quotation left out of the movie that is really striking in regards to the trial is after the death of Mrs. Dubose (who’s story was cut from the film) when Atticus says, “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 anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”(Lee 128). This illustrates that true courage is the ability to fight for what is right despite the odds being stacked against one, and this parallels his own struggle to fight against the racism in Maycomb.

The book uses these instances in a much different way, to frame Scout’s growth into her own person. One detail that stood out is that the only people in the movie who use the N-word are the “bad guys”, the Ewells, while in the novel the normalcy of the racism in Maycomb is much more present. Even Scout, in the beginning and middle of the novel casually uses the term not fully understanding the connotations that come with it. Her and Jem’s childlike ignorance fades as they visit Calpurnia’s church and are exposed to another side of Maycomb that they don’t quite understand. Another instance that is missing is much of the children’s interactions with Boo, the relationship in the movie springs almost out of nowhere near the end, but in the book the framework for their relationship is one of the most constant things in the novel.

In the end both the book and the movie aim to tell very different stories with the same characters and beats. While the novel is a story about growth and recognizing the humanity in everyone despite their race or their decisions the movie is more focused around the trial and exposing the rampant racism in the south. Neither is more important than the other in the message that it tells but the book paints a fuller picture of the characters and the events that surround them. In the end, the overall point of both is driven home when Boo and Tom are recognized as the titular mockingbirds.

Freedland, Michael. “I’m the Only Journalist Alive to Have Interviewed Harper Lee – and It’s All Thanks to Gregory Peck | Michael Freedland.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 13 July 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/13/interviewed-harper-lee-to-kill-a-mockingbird-sequel-go-set-a-watchman.

The Harms of Ignoring Intersectionality.

In Kimberlié Crenshaw’s Mapping the Margins, she explores the flaws inherent in the systems of modern feminism and antiracist politics and how they often fail to recognize the unique areas in which they intersect. That is because these movements are based on the experiences of black men and middle-class white women which excludes large swathes of lower-class women of color and their struggles. She applauds the work that these movements have accomplished while also critiquing the exclusion of these marginalized women from the overall narrative by making it an either/or scenario for many of them. Crenshaw stresses the necessity of recognizing those who experience both racism and sexism and what can be changed to address those unique needs.

Crenshaw illustrates that by ignoring the intersection between the movements they ultimately end up hurting one another. She does this through her many examples of domestic violence and rape. In the instance of the latina woman who could not find shelter from her abusive husband Crenshaw shows the harms caused by the lack of preparedness or willingness of these women’s shelters to accept someone that they deemed outside of their norms for victims. Another instance of the banality of the movements is the refusal of the LAPD and other antiracist advocacy groups to release the domestic violence statistics for the very real fear that they would be used to demonize the people they represent.She argues that because of these failure of feminism to recognize race and the antiracist movements to address the oppression of the patriarchy, many women of color are left unspoken for when it comes to the issues that concern them the most.

Crenshaw frames all of her examples through not only a societal view but also a political and a cultural one as well, and in all scenarios, the voices of women of color are eclipsed by those who are either white or male. By ignoring the areas in which movements intersect those fighting for them are inadvertently harming their own causes and those of others fighting for representation, and by flooding conversations concerning race and gender with a narrow idea of what each means it creates a destructive dichotomy for those caught in the crossfire.

Pain and the Breakdown of Language

In chapter 3 of Krog’s Country of My Skull, she explores the breakdown of language when confronted with indescribable pain. As she listens to the TRC testimony of Nomande, she reflects on her own pain and, like Nomonde, what it means to convey her own story despite it.

“The starting point of the human rights hearing was the indefinable wail that burst from Nomonde Calata’s lips in East London” (Krog 75). When retelling her experience of learning of her husband’s death, Nomonde Calata, overcome with grief she wails. Her cries expressed a pain that went beyond words and Krog, seeing this failure of language, realized that to adequately remember the crimes of Apartheid one must be taken to this prelinguistic state. She claims that being able to reclaim this pain and express it through words is to witness the rebirth of language and with it peace. To Krog, rediscovering and conquering this insurmountable pain by retelling their stories is how the people of South Africa will heal. She realizes that the hearings themselves may not exclusively be about amnesty, but also to give the victims ownership of their narratives and the opportunity to surmount the trauma that they faced at the hands of an oppressive regime and recover.

We see her do this herself at the end of the chapter as she confronts the immense pain she is in from reporting on the hearings. She finds herself sitting around “naturally and unnaturally, without words.”Despite her own traumatic experiences, she feels as though the work she is doing is exploitative but she recognizes that the stories must be told for the healing of the country as well as herself. She takes a break and realizes that she must also harness this pain and give birth to language that can heal a nation. Her job as a journalist is to provide a platform for the stories of the victims to be told and the reversion to this wordless state of pain is an integral part of the victims’ narratives.

A Long Night’s Journey into Day: What does Restorative Justice Look Like?

A Long Night’s Journey into Day is one of the most emotionally-charged documentaries I have seen in a long time and really made me question my notions of justice and what that looks like in the aftermath of atrocity. Through the stories told to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a picture of a broken nation is painted by a broken people. I acknowledged the importance in revealing the crimes of the perpetrators to the court of public opinion, but the pain it caused to the families of these victims made me wonder what it ultimately accomplished for them. What good could come from giving those who backed a racist system of oppression amnesty? It became clear to me when I heard Archbishop Tutu talk about his ideas on “restorative justice”

He mentioned that as a society, there is an emphasis on retributive justice for the victims, but that restorative could be just as impactful-if not more so. Going forward to the stories of the Gugulethu Seven was much more impactful to me after keeping the idea of restorative justice in mind. Watching the mothers of the boys as they painfully relived the experience of their sons’ deaths and came face to face with their killers. They went in unwilling to forgive, but by facing the pain and one of the men who caused it and allowing themselves to feel that horrific pain, they were able to forgive.

Before Tutu even introduces the idea it is illustrated by the Biehls and their willingness to forgive the men who killed their daughter. When confronted by the reality of her death they were able to heal and make sure that those who killed her and their families would not suffer. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was an entity dedicated to this restorative justice for not only the healing of those personally affected by the damages of an oppressive regime, but to the nation of South Africa itself. By confronting the pain caused in the past and through the acts of confession and forgiveness the hope is to absolve and to prevent the horrors of Apartheid from happening again.

The Banality of Evil

In Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, she explores the idea that someone can commit heinous atrocities without the heinous intentions behind them. She notes on several occasions on how ordinary Eichmann seemed on the stand, far from the antisemitic monster that the prosecution wished to paint him as. Yet, throughout the trial’s proceedings, Arendt truly defines what the “banality of evil” is.

The crimes committed by Eichmann and his compatriots may not have stemmed from anti-Semitic feelings, but that did not change the nature of the crime itself. Arendt describes this as a “…new type of criminal…” whose social circumstances and their removal from the reality of the situation make it nearly impossible for them to know the true atrocity of their actions, and this defines the true nature of a crime against humanity. Eichmann’s normalcy is what struck Arendt the most and what underscores her analysis of his guilt. His role in the Nazi’s Final Solution undoubtedly sent countless innocents to the gas chambers and yet he claimed to harbor no hatred for the Jewish people. His claim that any German could have taken his place was his main defense to the charges raised against him. Arendt counters the idea of “where all, or almost all are guilty, nobody is” by bringing up the case of Sodom and Gomorrah as well as the modern concept of collective guilt to emphasize the inexcusable nature of Eichmann’s actions. The judgement is ultimately not founded on the intentions of the criminal but on objectively what crime they committed and this is what the “banality of evil” truly is. The ability to commit evil deeds without evil intentions. She sees the circumstances surrounding Eichmann as irrelevant to the actions he objectively committed and thus he is condemned to death, not because he himself killed anybody but “no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the Earth with you.” due to the heinous nature of the deeds carried out upon his order.

Jefferson and Locke

When we were discussing the Enlightenment thinkers who inspired Jefferson in his penning of the Declaration of Independence one question stood out in my mind more than anything else: Why did Jefferson change Locke’s original quote of …”life, liberty, and property” to “…life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”? It could be argued that Jefferson was attempting to update Locke’s century-old ideas of government and its duty to the people and apply it to the unique dilemma which presented itself to the Continental Congress for the first time. The idea of a free nation, in which one could pursue their own personal happiness without having to bend under the weight of imperial rule is one that is uniquely American at the time.

I did some additional research into the topic expecting to find that this was the case, but as it turns out it is most likely a phrase borrowed once again from Locke. It is interesting that many of the ideas on which this nation was founded stem from the philosophies of English political thinkers. Despite the weight that the “American Experiment” held for England and the rest of the world, the ideas behind its foundation are surprisingly English.

Locke’s concept of the pursuit of happiness rises above the purely selfish or hedonistic ideas that many draw to mind and is described as “the foundation of liberty”. The freedom which Locke describes is one that stimulates the mind of the populace and frees them from the enslavement of their unfulfilled desires.

Just because the ideas contained within the Declaration of Independence may not be native to the U.S. doesn’t mean that they are any less American. The colonies’ decision to free themselves from British imperial rule was something that had never been attempted at the time, and the foundations of the nation were based on the individual freedoms that they felt were ignored under the rule of Britain. Although the ideas and writings of Locke were British, the actions that they inspired and continue to inspire are ones that have no border.