I have been a little under the weather the past three weeks with one illness after another queuing in unexpectedly. I haven’t had the heart to pick up the brushes in a while. But today I thought it was time to put some salve into my soul. So I curled up with a cup of hot bitter sweet coffee and watched “To Kill A Mockingbird”, all over again. I have read this book by Harper Lee several times over and watched the film about half a dozen times, and it remains very close to my heart.
I can easily say that this book is without doubt the most beautiful I have read and can ever hope to read. Like all good books, you notice something new and take with you something new from this book every single time that you read it.
I have never had role models and almost never really been in awe of anyone, perhaps with the exception of Atticus Finch, one of the characters from the book.
For those who have not read this book or watched the film, the story is from the point of view of Jean Louise Finch (Scout) as she remembers a summer back in
Jeremy (Jem) Finch is her brother who is 4 years older. Along with Dill, who visits his aunt every summer, the three kids spend most of their holidays wondering about their mysterious neighbour Arthur (Boo) Radley who has not been seen for several years and about whom some horrific stories abound in the small neighbourhood. Well, this is really the backdrop, the book addresses several issues, those of growing up, and racial prejudice, of parenting, courage and most importantly I suppose belief. This summary in no way does justice to the story, if you haven’t read the book, I suggest you do.
I cannot really sum this book, because as I said it brings me something new every time I read it. The film stars Gregory Peck in one of his most powerful and nuanced performances as Atticus and Mary Bedham as little Scout.
I cannot honestly imagine anyone else as Atticus. In fact it is difficult to separate the actor from the character he plays in this particular film. Atticus is a man of principles and mettle. His face is calm and compassionate; he always wears crisply ironed suits and ties.
In one of the scenes in the film, the two children are half asleep and talking about their mother who they lost 4 years ago, and the camera tracks very gently to Gregory Peck as he sits quietly on the swing at the porch outside, listening to his children. Atticus’s quiet face reveals just how much his wife meant to him. Enough to give you goose bumps.
And another sequence, where Atticus sits outside the jailhouse; guarding Tom who is inside. The trial is to begin the next morning. Atticus is reading under a lamp he has carried from home, it is the middle of the night and not a leaf stirs, all is dark, except for the light from the lamp, this shot is taken from afar. Four cars arrive with a lynch mob. What ensues is yet another remarkable scene in the film.
The character of Boo Radley is poignant to say the least. Especially when one realizes that Boo was once shut away from the world; but now chooses to shut himself away. The children are fascinated with him and in his own way so is he with the children. Perhaps he finds in their innocent curiosity and their foolish prying games the childhood he never was allowed. In a way I suppose Boo is the mockingbird and so is Tom.
“I could shoot all the Bluejays I wanted, if I could hit them, but (i was told) to remember it was a sin to kill a mockingbird”, says Atticus as he remembers what his father told him when he first gave him a gun.
The truth is that I want to believe that there are men like Atticus. No. Let me rephrase that, I want to believe that Atticus still exists. That courage and integrity still exist. That in all this noise, clutter and fragile egos the size of football fields which has everyone screaming like infants for attention and security, there is this island, rock solid, quiet, that can harbor someone like you and me. Or perhaps I am hoping that I find this island inside of me. And inside of you.
You can read more about Atticus on wikipedia here.