Reading Matters

Doug Wilhelm is a full-time writer and an independent publisher in Weybridge, Vemont. His 13 novels for young adults include The Revealers (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003), which has been the focus of reading-and-discussion projects in well over 1,000 middle schools; its sequel, True Shoes (Long Stride Books, 2012), and Doug's newest book, The Prince of Denial (Long Stride, 2013).

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Categories
    Categories Displays a list of categories from this blog.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Team Blogs
    Team Blogs Find your favorite team blogs here.
  • Login
    Login Login form

My summer of story: Mockingbird

  • Font size: Larger Smaller
  • Subscribe to this entry
  • Print

It’s not a classic story in the arc-of-narrative sense: as her biography makes clear, Lee worked long and hard with her editor, “Tay” Hohoff of J.B. Lippincott, to weave and stitch together what was originally more like a series of short stories, united by their Depression-era time, their small-town Alabama setting and the young Scout’s narration. What grew from that work is a novel that is still pretty episodic: there’s the chapter about Miss Maudie’s fire, the chapter about Jem reading to Mrs. Dubose, the chapter about Aunt Alexandra coming to stay.
    But nearly every good working story creates some form of tension; so many really good ones convey a sense of mystery, and the truly great ones touch on larger, deeper concerns. Mockingbird does all these — and even though the story’s great drama, the trial of Tom Robinson for a rape he didn’t commit but will be convicted of anyway because he is black, doesn’t begin until page 85, the tension and mystery that run even deeper through the novel commence on page 9, in chapter 1.

Inside the house lived a malevolent phantom. People said he existed, but Jem and I had never seen him.

Scout and Jem’s neighbor is Boo Radley, who hasn’t been seen to leave his house in their lifetime. As they and their odd, sensitive friend Dill play out schemes for drawing Boo out, none of which succeed, the children’s imagining of the phantom — “about six-and-a-half feet fall, judging from his tracks; he dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch, that’s why his hands were bloodstained” — gives way to a slowly growing sense of the story’s true mystery: why in the world people can be so evil to each other sometimes.

    “You reckon he’s crazy?”
    Miss Maudie shook her head. “If he’s not he should be by now. The things that happen to people we never really know. What happens in houses behind closed door, what secrets —”

This mystery broadens, and deepens, as Scout and Jem’s witnessing of Tom’s trial opens up the darkness within their pleasant little town. When the prosecutor’s haranguing of Tom on cross-examination — “Are you being impudent to me, boy?” — stirs Dill to erupt in tears, outside the courthouse they encounter one of the few white folks in Maycomb, if not the only one, who treats black people as equals.

“Cry about what, Mr. Raymond?”
    ... “Cry about the simple hell people give other people — without even thinking. Cry about the hell white people give colored folks, without even stopping to think that they’re people, too.”

Even when I first read this book at 12, Atticus the noble lawyer father seemed a little too wise and faultless to be real, and he still does; but Mockingbird is beyond criticism, and for good reason. It touches us so deeply. I finished the novel this time drenched in my own tears, feeling like a part of me has always been Boo, the part that maybe I put away when I learned how cruel the world could be. The story has touched generations this way; and it has become, over generations, so much a part of our ongoing struggle to wake up from the cruelty and violence that grows from our fear of people who only look different.

    He leaned in the doorway. “What, son?”
    “How could they do it, how could they?”
    “I don’t know, but they did it. They’ve done it before and they did it tonight and they’ll do it again and when they do it — it seems only children weep. Good night.”

    This is a struggle that, as other events this summer have made so clear, we still have, and maybe always will. Children will grow up and discover the world is cruel, mainly because adults can’t seem to see what is so plain and clear to a child’s eyes. That’s our world; and I think that’s why, at heart, this story goes on touching just about everyone.

Last modified on
in doug 0 Comments
Trackback URL for this blog entry.


  • No comments made yet. Be the first to submit a comment

Leave your comment

Guest Tuesday, 18 September 2018
Powered by EasyBlog for Joomla!