To Kill A Mockingbird – Why Read the Haunting and Awe Inspiring Bildungsroman Before Seeing the Movie?

By: Carmen Ureña

Movie: ⅗ stars

     To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee is an evocative and dazzling bildungsroman, but the movie does not reach the breathtaking quality of the book.  

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     Lee’s controversial novel is a bildungsroman that takes place in Maycomb County, a racist and close-minded town in South Alabama, United States. Scout Finch (Mary Badham) and Jem Finch (Phillip Alford) are exposed to a society full of racism and prejudice, while their father, Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) teaches them a set of values that go against the expectations and ways of Maycomb County’s residents.  He defends a black, Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), from rapping a white girl, Mayella Ewell (Collin Wilcox), the reason why his neighbors categorize them as a “nigger-lover.”  

     To Kill A Mockingbird (movie version) was directed by Robert Milligan, and although the movie gives you some insight about how was to live in the 1930’s in the South of the United States, he did not include many parts from the book in the movie that showed “the scary neighbor,” Boo Radley’s connection with the Finch kids, and the scene were Aunt Alexandra visits the family showing the difference between raising children by a white woman and Atticus raising his children in Maycomb County.  Additionally, he also changes the perspective from which the movie is told, giving you a different perspective of the plot.

     The movie does not include the scenes where Boo Radley (Robert Duvall) leaves gifts for Jem and Scout in the tree hole, nor the scene where he gives a blanket to Scout, protecting her from getting sick.  These parts were key since they give you an understanding of how deep the connection is between Boo Radley and the Finch kids. Boo Radley lives near the Finch family, he is shy and the subject of rumors and legends that circle Maycomb County. In the book, Lee describes every scene where Boo Radley leaves gifts for Jem and Scout inside the tree hole, while in the movie, they just show the scene where they find the soap figures; followed by Jem showing Scout all the other things he had previously found.  In the book, the value/personal significance of each object is clear and are a symbol of Boo’s interrupted childhood, wanting to create a connection with the kids, even though they made fun of him in his porch. The first gift is gum since Boo is conscious that a piece of gum is irresistible to children. He also gave them his Spelling Bee medal he won while he assisted to school; an old watch since Atticus allows his children to carry their grandfather’s watch once a week, now they could have one of their own; and the knife and chain were a form of foreshadowing to the attack from Bob Ewell to Jem and Scout.  All these scenes would’ve have served as a way of showing and emphasizing Boo’s connection and humanity with Jem and Scout, sense/feeling that is left out in the movie.

     The books include the scene were Miss. Maudie’s house caught on fire, while the movie does not. Scout complains of being cold, and Boo Radley quietly comes from behind and gives her a blanket; showing how much he cares about Scout.  In the movie, when Jem loses his pants, he immediately goes back to look for them, while in the book, he waits until two in the morning to go look for them. By making this change, the movie loses the “risk” felt by Jem and Scout when visiting the Radley’s place due to the rumors that go on the neighborhood after Boo Radley being a delinquent in his adolescent years.  It would’ve been beneficial if in the movie, Jem would have waited longer to look for his pants as a representation of the fear he feels after listening to the gunshots.

     Aunt Alexandra, not been part of the movie To Kill a Mockingbird, makes Atticus teachings less eye-catching.  Aunt Alexandra is Atticus’ Finch sister and aunt to Jem and Scout.  She lives in the family landing, and her particular personality sticks out when compared to her easy-going brothers.  In the book, Aunt Alexandra visits the Finch’s house; in here she talks to Atticus about how he should not allow his children to visit Calpurnia’s (the Finches’ black maid, in the movie represented as Estelle Evans) house.  By including this scene, viewers would’ve been able to compare how two members of the same family have different perspectives towards the black community.  Aunt Alexandra’s character in the book works to make emphasis on Atticus’ character and teachings. She serves as a foil character to Atticus as he tries to teach Jem and Scout a set of morals and ethics from which Aunt Alexandra disagrees. Atticus has an open-minded perspective, while Aunt Alexandra fits into the close-minded society of Maycomb County, she likes gossiping and is racist.  

     The movie To Kill a Mockingbird is told from a different perspective and is rarely seen through the eyes of Scout, unlike the book, which is primarily told from Scout’s point of view.  Because the movie is told from a different perspective, we can’t easily see how Scout grows, evolves and matures. While you can have a faster and clearer understanding in the movie since it is told from a reliable source and issues are given directly, the book is told from a naive and immature perspective, which gets you thinking and analyzing what’s happening; an engaging technique which grabs the reader’s attention.

     To Kill a Mockingbird in its visual representation misses major parts presented by Lee in the book that would add to the viewer’s’ understanding.  At the beginning of the movie starts out with Scout talking, Robert Milligan later changes the narrator of the movie, a good opportunity just for those who read the book, to see compare how the ages and roles in the community affect your understanding about what is going on around you.  Although it is a good technique to change the narrator’s, those who have not read the book miss the essence of Lee’s book, to see the story evolve through a coming-of-age girl who doesn’t fully understand what’s going around her.

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Writing From a Different Perspective

I was in Maycomb County’s jail, the trial was going to be in a few days.  I knew this was a dangerous place, Bob Ewell wants to hurt me, and I am conscious of that.  All I want is get out of jail and be back home, with my wife and children.  I am innocent, I was unfairly blamed for rapping, but I am in disadvantage, my skin color, I am black, and not anyone will trust me.

The night came, and I knew Atticus was worried about my safety.  He was sitting outside the jail, alone in the deep, dark, and cold night, just to take care of me.  I appreciate him very much, although his white, he defends me, and even protects me, no mattering how dangerous it is for him.  He is called names because of taking my case, but he doesn’t care.

It was late at night, sitting on my bed, thinking about the trial… Will Atticus be able to prove them wrong?  Will I be able to soon return back home with my loved ones? I was nervous, but this feeling just kept getting worst when I heard the engine of cars.  Several thoughts passed through my head, I kept thinking they were going to hurt me or Atticus, or even both of us.

I was certain that anything good was going to happen, feeling powerless I started shaking and sweating.  I knew my life was in danger, and even more so Atticus.  If something happened to him, I’ll feel guilty.  It was his decision coming to jail, but because he cared about me, if something happened, I’ll not be there to help him as he has helped me.

I heard the doors of the cars close as if they had been smacked.  Followed by strong footsteps.  I heard a lot of voices, they sound intimidating, but Atticus’ voice remained the same.  He didn’t sound nervous at all, but that didn’t change the fact that the group of people who were talking with him could hurt him.  I felt a little more relaxed when hearing that Atticus’ voice didn’t change.  The conversation was going normally until I heard a new tone of voice, that definitely not sounded like full grown adults, it sounded like little kids’ voice.  I am not sure who they were or what they were doing there.

The men told Atticus he had fifteen seconds to send his kids away, just then I realized Atticus’ children were also in danger.  What will happen if he doesn’t send them away? I thought, shaking and sweating.  I could hear a girl voice speaking, not sure of what she was saying, she talked too quietly for me to understand, I felt intrigued.  Followed by the girl’s voice, a strong adult voice, I paid attention.  I think they said to the little girl they were going to leave, but I had my doubts.

I let a few minutes go by, I heard the cars leaving, and proceed to call Mr.Underwood, asking how was Atticus and if the men had really gone.  Mr. Underwood, told me that Atticus and the kids were fine, anyone got hurt and the bunch of men was gone.  “We are all safe now,” said Mr. Underwood.  I realized he was another white who supported me, he was ready with a shotgun in case anything serious happened.

I felt relieved, everyone was safe; is something would have happened, I would blame myself, and would have never forgiven me.

Fights With Friends

“This time we aren’t fighting the Yankees, we’re fighting our friends. But remember this, no matter how bitter things get, they’re still our friends and this is still our home.”  This was said by Atticus to her daughter Scout in pages 101-102 in Harper’s Lee controversial novel, To Kill A Mockingbird.  Unlike his friends, Atticus is a very open-minded person, having no sense of discrimination or sense of superiority against blacks.  Atticus is frequently insulted by his friends, who call them “nigger-lover.”  Atticus, as a lawyer, is defending a black man, Tom Robinson who has been accused of raping a white girl.  At school, Scout struggles with the terms that Atticus is being called, but at home, Atticus tries to teach her that he doesn’t care about being called a “nigger-lover” by anyone, even his friends.  Atticus is conscious that his friends’ opinion is based on the time period they live in, and in the values, they grew with.  Instead of encountering them and breaking relationships, Atticus let pass the insults, ignorance and closed minds of their friends.

In my opinion, there are fights between friends that make it impossible to remain friends.  I believe cases when trust is violated, very personal things that were trust to someone and then the person took advantage of it to harm you in any way, or cases were the family is offended are an example of times that make it impossible to remain friends.  Personally, I have had cases which I thought I’d probably never talk to someone again, but now we can hang out normally with a group of friends, though our friendship would not be the same as it was before, not even close.  In my opinion, there are fights that you can be not as impactful in a relationship, and that you can use them t build your relationship upon that incident, making your relationship stronger.

I do have had several cases were family members, and friends, especially from my old school express their points of view or make certain comments that in my opinion are abhorrent.  When situations like this happen, I just need to remember that probably I’d had the same perspective if I wouldn’t have had the opportunity of being in an IB school which promotes open-mindedness to accept different cultures, religions, and perspectives.  In this cases, I just express my opinion respectfully, hoping for others to understand my point of view, backing it up with real-life examples/stories.

Link to my journal entries:

Journal Entry # 1

Journal Entry # 2

Journal Entry # 3

Journal Entry # 4

Journal Entry # 5

Writing From A Different Perspective

 

 

 

Journal Entry #5 – Characters Responses To Dilemmas

The way characters respond to dilemmas will be based on personality, age, level of maturity, education, understanding of the events that happen around him/her, and a clear understanding of the limitations of the setting.  Most stories’ dilemmas are common dilemmas that happen in anyone’s life since this help readers connect to the story.  Having dilemmas with which readers can feel identified with, might have an impact/influence on the reader’s decision towards the dilemma since they can learn from the character’s decision and how it brought rewards or consequences to the plot.

In To Kill A Mockingbird, there are definitely models we can apply to our lives, while there are others we should reject.  Atticus is an example of a character that we should use as a model in our lives, as well as Ms.Maudie.  Both are really patient and take the time to teach Jem and Scout how to act appropriately, and important values such as not judging, making an assumption of others’ lives without knowing what they’ve gone through to get where they are, especially when they live in a town were neighbor like gossiping.  An example of this is when Ms.Maudie asks Scout to please change the way she talks and refers to Boo Radley since she doesn’t know the whole story, she had just heard the rumors of the town.  Their desire to guide through a good path to Scout and Jem is a reflection of their values, the mindset in which they grew in, maturity, and a clear understanding of the negatives and positives of Maycomb County and the society in which they live.

Unlike Atticus and Ms. Maudie, Scout is a type of character that should be eluded in our lifes.  Because of her young age, she still doesn’t have a clear view of what’s happening around her, basing her decisions and actions more on what other people tell her.

Journal Entry #4 – School Punishments In The 1930’s

In this image, we can see how kids were smacked in the hand with different materials.

In Chapter 2, page 28 of Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, we receive a glimpse at what was like going to school in the 1930’s.  Scout, the narrator of the story, has a tomboyish personality and likes getting into fights.  If she doesn’t like something, she’ll comment on it.

In page 26, Ms. Caroline, Scout’s teacher, offers money to one of the students, Walter Cunningham. The Cunninghams are known in Maycomb County for how poor they are.  Walter, knowing that probably he wouldn’t be able to pay back to Ms. Caroline, refuses to accept the money.  Scout, goes up and explains Ms. Caroline the reason behind Walter not wanting to accept her money.  Ms. Caroline gets annoyed by Scout and on page 28, she takes Scout’s hand and hits it with a ruler.  For those of us living in the 21st Century, might think that was a not the correct response to the situation, that if Ms. Caroine was annoyed, she should have sent Scout to the principal’s office.

During the 1930s, the school system was not the same as it is now.  Back in the days, if teachers had a problem with a student, they’d solve it themselves.  In case of a punishment, teachers whipped students with a rattan cane, wooden paddle, slippers, leather straps, or wooden yardsticks.  For major misbehavior, a razor strop or a hickory switch was used on the child’s bottom.  In some rare cases, punishments included smacking students with the open hand, this kind of punishment was avoided even more so in elementary school level.  In certain schools, the punishments for girls were less harsh than for boys, while in other schools there was no differentiation when it was related to punishments.

Years later, this kind of punishments was prohibited since it promoted violence to students and harmed their bodies.  It teaches students that violence was the way to solve problems.  With the evolution of time, we can see how problems between teachers and students are solved differently, by visiting the principal’s office or by calling the student’s parents.  In the present, if a teacher was to punish a student this way, unlike in the 1930s, it would cause controversy, with the possibilities of the teacher’s farewell.

Journal Entry #2 – The “N” Word

What does being a nigger-lover means to the residents of Maycomb County?  Why is this a powerful insult?

In literature, the word “nigger” is usually replaced for the “N-word.”  Usually, it refers to black or dark-skinned people, in the present, being one of the most racially offensive words.  It was commonly used in the past, but the last century, it appears to be a word which is used each day with more frequency.  It has been started to be used by black people, referring to other black people, but it is just acceptable when said by people within this community.  When this word is used by someone who’s not black, referring to someone who is black, it is considered racist comment.

To Kill A Mockingbird, a novel written by Harper Lee has been banned in different schools due to the use of the N-word.  Harper Lee uses this word for the purpose of providing readers a clearer view of the context and values o the community in which the novel is based on.

Atticus, as a lawyer, is defending a black man, Tom Robinson who has been accused of raping a white girl.  In the novel, the narrator’s father, Atticus, is frequently called by his friends and neighbors a “nigger-lover” for defending Tom Robinson.  This term was not only derogatory towards black people, but also a derogatory term against the white people who supported blacks.  This term reinforces racism which was lived in that era.

In my opinion, been called a “nigger-lover” was such an insult because blacks were seen as a lower class, they were seen as an inferior community with no value.  A white who is called to be a “nigger-lover” instantly seen as inferior, even though his/her race; you become categorized as a poor, dirty, lazy, and invaluable person, since defending or liking black people was unacceptable during the 1930’s.

 

Journal Entry #3 – Discrimination In The 21st Century

Picture of the four players eating at the restaurant where their entrance was denied after their entrance was allowed a few days later.

Segregation in the United States during the 1930’s was common.  Society was divided based on their color skin, this determined the opportunities you had, where you were seated in the bus and trains, where you drink water, the schools you went to, along with many other things.   This was an issue believed that was left in the past, though recently, many cases related to the color skin, have been occurring, for example in the United States, with the former president: Donald Trump; and in Panamá, with the sudden prohibition of colored skin people entering to a restaurant in a prestigious area.

During March of 2017, four players of the Sub 17 National Soccer Team of Panamá, were invited by their coach, Felipe Borowsky to celebrate their accomplishments after being selected to participate on the Sub 20 national team.  The invitation was in a restaurant located in one of the most luxurious areas of Panamá City.  When the four players arrived at the restaurant, the waiter asked to sit and wait for a table since supposedly, there was no space.  

While they were waiting, a family of five arrived, and they were given a table.  Felipe Borowsky, at his arrival at the restaurant and saw the four players waiting, proceed to ask the waiter why were they waiting.  The waiter answered to Borowsky’s question: “ we have a target.”  While some believe the discriminative incident was due to their color skin, and others say it is because of the stereotype that Panamanian soccer players are poor, and are robbers. After this incident, many Panamanians have refused to assist to this restaurant, as a way of communicating that they are against any type of discrimination.