|Title||To kill a mockingbird|
Harper Lee (b. 1926) is the first living artist to make an appearance on Masterpieces. She wrote just one novel, To kill a mockingbird. The novel was an instant bestseller and won her the 1961 Pulitzer prize. It was voted “Best novel of the century” by readers of the library journal.
The story is set in Maycomb, a small (fictional) town in Alabama, in the 1930s – some 80 or 90 years after Huckleberry Finn. The black slaves from Huck’s time are now black servants, they are often (but not always) referred to as negroes instead of niggers, and the racism is unchanged.
The story is narrated by Scout Finch, the daughter of a local attorney, Atticus Finch. She is looking back to her childhood years – the narration begins when Scout is almost six, and ends three years later. She describes the town, and the bigotry of its white inhabitants, through the eyes of a child, who often does not really understand what is happening.
A large part of the narrative concerns the trial (and aftermath of the trial) of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white girl. Tom is defended by Atticus Finch, and Scout and her brother Jem are bullied by the children of the town because their father defends a black man against a white accuser. Atticus clearly shows at the court hearing that Tom is innocent, but the (all-white) jury nevertheless declares him guilty. “In our courts, when it’s a white man’s word against a black man’s, the white man always wins.” (ch. 23)
The town Maycomb was a small, old, run-down town in Alabama:
Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square. Somehow, it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer’s day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.
People moved slowly then. They ambled across the square, shuffled in and out of the stores around it, took their time about everything. A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County.
The pace in Maycomb is slow, the town and the people are old-fashioned, the people gossip. There are at least three classes (middle class, poor and black). The Finches belong to the middle class. Middle class people help each other in need (e.g. when a fire destroys Miss Maudie’s house the whole neighborhood helps to save her possessions), but are bigoted with respect to the other classes (with a few exceptions, like Atticus Finch or Miss Maudie).
The Ewell family is as low as you can get in Maycomb if you’re white:
Maycomb’s Ewells lived behind the town garbage dump in what was once a Negro cabin. The cabin’s plank walls were supplemented with sheets of corrugated iron, its roof shingled with tin cans hammered flat, so only its general shape suggested its original design: square, with four tiny rooms opening onto a shotgun hall, the cabin rested uneasily upon four irregular lumps of limestone. Its windows were merely open spaces in the walls, which in the summertime were covered with greasy strips of cheesecloth to keep out the varmints that feasted on Maycomb’s refuse.
No-one in Maycomb wants to have anything to do with the Ewells, but when Bob Ewell accuses Tom Robinson of raping his daughter, Tom is arrested and found guilty without any proof – when it’s a white man’s word against a black man’s, the white man always wins, even if the white man is Bob Ewell.