"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Monday, February 29, 2016

Lines I Wished I’d Written: Atticus is Feeble from To Kill a Mockingbird

I’ve been reading Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.  I’m about a third of the way through and I will post some analytical thoughts as soon as I finish Part 1, which is another fifteen pages or so.  I’ve come across a number of passages that are delightfully written, and I’ve been debating over which one I should highlight.  As soon as I read this at my lunchtime break today, I concluded this was the one.

This is a passage where Scout Finch, the central character of the novel, a young girl somewhere between six and nine years old, tells about her father, Atticus Finch, who seems rather ordinary, unexciting, and less accomplished than the fathers of the other children at school.

Atticus was feeble: he was nearly fifty.  When Jem and I asked him why he was so old, he said he had got started late, which we felt reflected upon his abilities and manliness.  He was much older than the parents of our school contemporaries, and there was nothing Jem or I could say about him when our classmates said, “My father—“

Jem was football crazy.  Atticus was never too tired to play keep-away, but when Jem wanted to tackle him Atticus would say, “I’m too old for that, son.”

Our father didn’t do anything.  He worked in an office, not in a drugstore.  Atticus did not drive a dump-truck for the county, he was not the sheriff, he did not farm, work in a garage, or do anything that could possibly arouse the admiration of anyone.

Besides that, he wore glasses.  He was nearly blind in the left eye, and said his eyes were the tribal curse of the Finches.  Whenever he wanted to see something well, he turned his head and looked from his right eye.

He did not do things our schoolmates’ fathers did: he never went hunting, he did play poker or fish or drink or smoke.  He sat in the livingroom and read.

With these attributes, however, he would not remain as inconspicuous as we wished him to: that year, the school buzzed with talk about him defending Tom Robinson, none of which was complimentary.  After my bout with Cecil Jacobs when I committed myself to a policy of cowardice, word got around that Scout Finch wouldn’t fight any more, her daddy wouldn’t let her.  This was not entirely correct: I wouldn’t fight publically for Atticus, but the family was private ground.  I would fight anyone from a third cousin upwards tooth and nail.  Francis Hancock, for example, knew that.

When he gave us our air-rifles Atticus wouldn’t teach us to shoot.  Uncle Jack instructed us in the rudiments thereof; he said Atticus wasn’t interested in guns.  Atticus said to Jem one day, “I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you’ll go after birds.  Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.

“Your father’s right,” she said.  “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy.  They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us.  That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

So, that’s where we get the title of the novel.  I was wondering about that, and obviously it’s loaded with symbolism.  I don’t know what it’s symbolic of yet, but I would say it’s rich with possibilities.  That the mockingbird’s singing is noted reminds me of some of the Romantic poet’s use of bird singing to symbolize ideal beauty.  I’m thinking of Percy Shelley’s “To a Skylark” or John Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale.”  Isn’t it interesting that the family’s last name is Finch, also a type of bird.  Is Finch a contrast to Mockingbird or are they analogous?  I’ll have to do a little ornithological research.  We shall see what develops from that. 

But I was struck with the delineation of Atticus Finch.  Let’s see, an older father than typical, wears glasses and loves to read, works in an office and is rather unexciting: who does that remind one of?  Me!  LOL.  I’m all those things except I’m an engineer instead of a lawyer, and I do drink alcoholic beverages every now and then.  I would like to think I’m as wise as Atticus Finch, but probably not. 

It was only a couple of weeks ago someone said on a comment to a post on a subject I forget that most women dream of marrying Atticus Finch but they wake up to find they are married to Homer Simpson.  LOL, well I hope I’m not that bad.  I would say I’m more like George Jetson.