To Kill a Mockingbird

Last night, after Steve and I returned from Tulsa, after we unpacked, after we put up the Christmas tree, we sat down to watch To Kill a Mockingbird. Steve had never seen the movie before, and I was pretty sure he’d like it. He did, very much.

As many of you know, we often do writing prompts together. On this thankfully lazy Sunday morning, I suggested we write for ten minutes about what touched each of us about the movie last night.

I was surprised about the difference in what each of us wrote.

STEVE WROTE:

Despite Gregory Peck’s eloquent and convincing closing argument, his client, Tom Robinson, was found guilty,  and was later shot trying to escape. All the evidence pointed in one direction, social bias and pressure in the other.

atticus and TR

Most of us realize there’s something amiss when when a police officer fires eight bullets into an unarmed black man, no matter how big he was; yet we need to make sense of it, justify it. We need scapegoats, villains, socially-identified victims, but it leaves us uneasy, anxious.

We are living wrong when we normalize hate and violence, we can’t pass up the provocateur. In the movie, it’s Boo–the outcast–who sees the injustice and intervenes, brings about justice. But the movie suggests that at a deeper level people get it, the sheriff gets that the villain, Bob Ewell–though too easily a villain–dies as a result of his unending need for revenge, his need to externalize his hatred, to find it in others (Tom Robinson) and then to kill for it. He’s on a perpetual rampage because he can’t stand the ambiguity, can’t see the log in his own eye.

TKM EwellThe scene that touched me most was when Bob Ewell spit in Atticus’s face. Atticus stood for a long time, then wiped his face and walked on past Ewell, leaving Ewell with nothing to fight, which he needs. He needs to provoke, to engage, to feel connected, otherwise he’s miserable, empty, lost, diminished.

Atticus left him. Still his need for vengeance, reinforced by society, wouldn’t pass. He couldn’t let go, and he lived in the mistaken idealization that he could destroy the enemy and make his world more perfect. But he was digging his own grave, turning a neutral world against him.

Atticus, on the other hand, kept walking through injustice, not absorbing it, not taking the bait. He never got hooked into the need to retaliate. He acted with faith, that eventually good would prevail.

JAN WROTE:

There were many scenes that touched me–the integrity of Atticus, Scout’s and Jem’s love and respect for their father, Scout’s innocence, the moment Jem stood up to Atticus and said, “no.” It’s tough to choose. But I think I’d have to say what touched me most were the moments when Atticus went from respected attorney to loving father. Here are some of the scenes I remember:

scout in bed1) When Atticus tucked Scout into bed, she asked if she could have his pocket watch when he died. He gently told her that Jem would get the watch, but her mother’s pearls would someday be hers.

2) Later, Atticus sat in the porch swing and listened to a conversation between Scout and Jem about their mother. The longing in his eyes, not only for the wife he missed, but also for the mother his children missed, even for what their mother missed in seeing her children grow up–brought tears to my eyes.

TKM porch swing

TKM jailhouse3) While Atticus guarded Tom Robinson, his children showed up and suddenly, his brave, calm demeanor was shattered. He became frightened, protective, even angry, demanding that his children leave the dangerous situation.

4) When Atticus ran out of the house after Boo brought Jem home, he shouted for Scout. Again, his calm, brave demeanor was overtaken by fear over what might have happened to her.

5) Finally, at the end of the movie, Scout curled up in his lap like it was the safest place on earth. When the narrator (a grown-up Scout) said he stayed in Jem’s room all night and into the morning, I believed Atticus, above all else, was a father who loved his children.

TKM end hug

Here’s a haiku I wrote that appears in my book Life: Haiku by Haiku:

mischievous Scout sought
adventure, but instead found
compassion for Boo

What touched you most about To Kill a Mockingbird?

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7 Responses to To Kill a Mockingbird

  1. ruthie says:

    Well now, Jan, what a question to ask me. You know how much I love this movie and the book as well. I identified with Scout the minute I read the book. I got into her skin and walked around.
    The scene that touched me the most and that still brings tears to my eyes to this very day is when, after the doctor has set Jem’s arm, the door swings shut and there stands Boo. Scout smiles only a tiny smile but it speaks volumes and says, “Hey, Boo.”
    Boo “pets” Jem’s hair while Scout tells him to do while he’s a sleep cause Jem wouldn’t let him do it if he where awake. Then she walks Boo to the porch to set in the swing and finally walks him back home. That one scene sums up all the messages, themes, and goodness of the whole movie; unconditional love.
    To Kill a Mockingbird will always be a favorite of mine. So glad that Steve finally got to see it. To this day, I still want to portray Scout, even if I am ever so much older.

    • Jan Morrill says:

      Somehow I knew you’d be the first to comment, Ruthie. I know how much you love this movie, how much you love Scout. And no, you’re not too old. If anyone ever had the heart of Scout, it’s you. 🙂

  2. Ah, can’t believe Steve hadn’t seen the movie before! I would ditto his main impressions, although I think Bob Ewell never thought his world was good or would ever be made “more perfect.” He was just so disgusted at his daughter’s behavior and wanted to hide the truth to save his reputation, what little there really was of it. If you ask what was touching, that would be Scout and her beautiful innocence amidst so much ugliness. (I also felt very sorry for Mayella.) What a magnificent movie.

    A few years ago, I attended a talk by Scout (Mary Badham). She said Gregory Peck was very fond of the child actors, so what you see on screen is not just acting. She said he also had a difficult time keeping his emotions in check in the courtroom scenes, which the child actors never saw on set in order to protect them. Since the kids were just ordinary small-town kids without acting experience, the director had the adult actors always be in character, even while not shooting, and did not tell them of the surprise moments, including Boo behind the door, so that they would be truly surprised and natural.

    • Jan Morrill says:

      Thank you for sharing Mary Badham’s stories, Linda. I read a little of the behind-the-scenes comments on IMDb, but hadn’t heard about how the director handled the child actors. Now I want to go back and re-watch the scene with Boo behind the door. It’ll be even more magical knowing that Scout really was surprised. Gives me goosebumps just thinking about it!

  3. Mustang.Koji says:

    Have to admit, too, that I’ve not ever seen it – not even one part of it. The differences in your two views/interpretations doesn’t surprise me as I feel there are differences in the male/female mind and inherent beliefs on what is proper social order as well as other concepts… but in the end, these differences have largely coalesced into powerful forces dividing our country – this way and that way. Your post was enlightening.

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