This past weekend, Harper Lee, famous author of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” passed away at age 89. She has, for quite some time, been an exceptionally famous household name, and her classic novel was a staple in high schools across America for decades.
In more recent years, however, her groundbreaking story of Atticus, Scout and Boo Radley was placed, along with many other classics, including “The Catcher and the Rye,” on a banned book list for many libraries and school curriculums.
The reasoning behind the book’s prohibition stems primarily from parents’ concerns on the offensive racial language and the rape-centered plot line of the book, which they believe instills bad morals in the minds of young readers.
Therefore, with the death of Harper Lee bringing back to mind the brilliance that is “To Kill a Mockingbird,” we are also forced to address the way in which people take away from Harper Lee’s creation by deeming it too controversial and shielding their kids from the experience of reading through Scout Finch’s mind.
Having read “To Kill a Mockingbird” in the eighth grade, I have always been surprised by and in disagreement with the banning of this book in other schools’ curriculums.
While I certainly was thrown into an unfamiliar world in which racial slurs were consistently used by child characters in a story, all of which are and could certainly be found offensive, my teacher explained the setting and reasoning behind the dialogue, which helped with the problem.
I can certainly say that no students in my class took cues from the kids in the story; none of them began using offensive language after reading the book, which seems to be the predominant fear of parents pushing for the ban.
In fact, I think having the words so prevalent in the book put the rap music and violent movies in which we also heard those words in a different perspective for us, maybe even broadening our middle school world view. As far as the rape in the plot, I think it once again gives a chance for rape to be in a curriculum setting; teachers can at least have a chance to teach kids about it, as opposed to the inevitable exposure they are going to get through some TV show or movie their parents do not know they are watching.
Today, more than ever, it is exceptionally difficult to shield preteens and teens from exposure to events and terms that are harmful or offensive, and so books that allow kids to learn in the process, in my mind, are even more beneficial now. It seems quite likely that parents would rather have their children exposed to rape plot lines in a course led by a teacher, than in an R-rated movie.
Additionally, there is a large difference between including aspects in a story and condoning them, and I think Harper Lee actually looks with an intelligently critical eye at the exact issues parents are accusing her book of instilling in their children, doing so through the questioning mind of her young narrator.
I suppose I find it sad that some high school students will not experience “To Kill a Mockingbird,” as it is a classic for a reason.
Scout is a narrator that is so different from others, in that she is a girl who pushes the boundaries of femininity, which is certainly a progressive notion for the book’s time, along with the ever-present issue of race causing arrests.
Beyond that, the book is able to withstand so many years while remaining relevant, and I know, for me, there was something so fun and new about being able to talk to my dad about a book he also read while growing up, and I hope that although Harper Lee has passed away, the connection that her book gives its readers will be able to live on.