TKAM was once part of a longer novel entitled Go Set a Watchman, which is about a grown-up Scout living in New York. In it, Scout returns to Maycomb, Alabama, to visit her father. Upon reading the manuscript, Lee’s editor advised her to focus on the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood experiences, and thus a Pulitzer Prize winner was born. The discovery of Go Set a Watchman and its upcoming publication gives readers the opportunity to find out what happened later to Scout and Atticus.
To Kill a Mockingbird was made into a movie in 1962, establishing actor Gregory Peck as the embodiment of Atticus Finch. The movie came with the warning, “Not Suitable for Children,” despite the fact that three of the characters, Scout, Jem, and Dill were actual children. As New York Times critic Bosley Crowther wrote: “And for a fair spell it looks as though maybe we are going to be squeezed inside the skin of Scott and Jem as they go racing and tumbling around the neighborhood…. It is when the drama develops along the conventional line of a social crisis in the community—the charging of a Negro with the rape of a white woman—that the children are switched to the roles of lookers-on.”
The charming story of children living in small town Alabama becomes an examination of subjects considered extremely taboo in the mid-twentieth century. There was the intimation of sex between a white woman and a black man, as well as the possibility of incest and child abuse. Maycomb’s inhabitants are exposed as vicious bigots.
Gregory Peck speaks a bit about the book and movie in this trailer:
Despite the fact that many consider To Kill a Mockingbird as the best of their required reading books (Goodreads list), it is among one of the most banned and/or challenged classics, according to the American Library Association. Offensive language, including racial slurs, are repeated throughout the book. The shame of racism, particularly in the courtroom, is a major theme. Toss in rape, lynch mobs, and murder and there is plenty of objectionable material for some parents. Even as recently as 2013, TKAM was banned (or re-banned, as this article explains) in a Louisiana School District.
Nevertheless, millions of readers are dying to know the rest of the story. When Go Set a Watchman (a biblical reference found in Isaiah 21:6) is finally released in June of this year, expect a rush to rival the releases of the Harry Potter books. Mockingbird t-shirts, anyone?
Looking for TKAM read-alikes? Check out teen blogger Bella Cavicci’s article on The Hub!
-Diane Colson, currently reading Bone Clocks by David Mitchell.