Monday, July 12, 2010

To Kill a Mockingbird: The Fiftieth Anniversary

One of my favorite books of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird, turned 50 this weekend.  Yesterday was the anniversary date of its publication.

I've been teaching for fifteen years and for the past ten, I've taught To Kill a Mockingbird every year (twice a year because when second semester starts in January, I get new classes. So, to six classes per school year (3 and 3) multiplied by ten years, well, I've taught the book to a lot of students.  This makes for a lot of class discussions and lots of different perspectives on Harper Lee's masterpiece.

When I started seeing articles lately about the anniversary and about the celebrations around the country, and especially in Monroeville, I also learned of Mary McDonagh Murphy's new book, Scout, Atticus and Boo It's a companion to a documentary she's done in which she interviews a number of people about their reactions to the book.  What fascinates me is that although almost everyone says the book changed their life or made them look at things in a new way, everyone gets something different out of the book.

Murphy says that what surprised her was how many different answers she got when she asked each person their favorite passage in the book.  And what I always tell my students, and what is absolutely true, is that every time I re-read it, I pick up on something I missed before, or something new reveals itself to me.

I've left the book at my mom's (see previous post) or I'd quote something from it for you, but it's really been interesting.  I'm about to read Murphy's interview with Alice Lee, the older sister.

As far as Harper Lee's (and nobody actually calls her that by the way), I don't begrudge her decision for privacy one bit.  The almost universal explanation from those who know her is that she said what she had to say in the book, she was never happy with attempts at another, and she doesn't give interviews because reporters asked dumb questions.  She gave a few after publication, but after a while, enough.  Done.  She doesn't like people making a buck off of her, either.  In Murphy's book we learn that the author used to go to the local bookstore in Monroeville and sign lots of copies of the book for them to sell but then greedy folks would come buy them all and sell them on eBay, so she quit doing that.

I wish I had one of those!  What a treasure! 

We'll read the book in my classes again this fall and I'll share with my students this year some comments from Murphy's book.  Maybe they'll be more motivated to read it when they hear what others have thought and how it impacted them.  Some teenagers, of course, love to read, but it's always sort of a challenge getting some of my slower learners or those who have never read a novel before, ever, to read this one.  Some of the language at the beginning of the novel might be off-putting to them; the history of Maycomb doesn't just grab them at first.  I always show a brief clip of the beginning of the film so they can see what's coming and that usually does it, but not always.  Some never read it, and that's a shame.

So.  Have you read To Kill a Mockingbird?  How many times?  And what was your favorite passage?!  I want to know!

Here's a clip from CBS News on the anniversary, while you're thinking about your answers:


49er16 said...

I read "To Kill a Mockingbird" when I was a sophomore in high school. I then read it again for a literature class I took my senior year of college.

My favorite passage is when Boo carries Jem home after his arm is broken and the kids finally realizing that the man who carried home Jem was the mysterious Boo Radley.

Andy said...

Pat, the film with Peck made a big impression on me as a child. I am pretty sure that I did read the book later on, but I'm not sure.

#3 son (you know who he is) surprised me once. I mentioned "To Kill a Mockingbird," thinking that I'd stump him, and have to explain the whole thing to him.

But, he knew all about it. He told me the characters, the plot, the point, etc.

You done good!

Red said...

I love the film. I appreciate the book. Husband is a Gregory Peck fan and has often said he would fashion himself after Peck's portrayal of Atticus Finch if we ever had kiddos. A lofty goal ;-)

Steve said...

What? From what I'm reading in these entries I am beginning to realize that "To Kill a Mockingbird" isn't a how-to-book. ;)

Tina said...

Oh every word is a treasure. So many passages come to mind. "Stand up, Miss Jean Louise. Your father is passing by." "We had a chance. We had a good chance." "I went as a ham."

Reading or watching, that town, those sidewalks and streets and rooms, the kids playing, recalls whispers of a summer afternoon of my own childhood. Segregation was pretty much gone by the time I came along - I had friends and neighbors and teachers of all colors. But the life of frugal and stable small towns: The days before air conditioning! The days when people still walked most paces, ladies wore gloves in public, and all the men wore hats. The days when all the old men sat in the cool of the marble halls or on the concrete steps of the Courthouse. The days when the jails had windows that opened, and prisoners would carry on conversations with people on the lawns below.

The movie mirrors the books so well too. Would that all authors would retain iron control as Harper Lee did. I watch the movie every year, and read the book every few years - along with The Secret Garden.

Pat Austin said...

I love these responses! Thank you all so much for sharing them! Who needs Mary M. Murphy! We can write our own compilation of experiences! Thank you so much!

Anonymous said...

Pat, I read the book several times in school and then again this past year (at 46). It was just as good again. I am a foster parent and want to read it to the girls I hope to keep forever, but will have to wait. Some of the specifics of the crime will hit far too close to home for my girls. Hopefully when they are old enough, it will be helpful.
Always love your blog. Sorry about the anonymous comment.