Guest Blogger, Laura Madsen - mom, veterinarian and writer
Last year to celebrate Banned Books Week I reread TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Like another classic, HUCKLEBERRY FINN, it’s been challenged numerous times because of racism and the word “nigger.” (Read an example here).
Challenged at the Brentwood, TN Middle School (2006) because the book contains “profanity” and “contains adult themes such as sexual intercourse, rape, and incest.” The complainants also contend that the book’s use of racial slurs promotes “racial hatred, racial division, racial separation, and promotes white supremacy.”
To those people I say: Trying to cover up our country’s painful race problems, both past and present, puts you in the same class as the Holocaust deniers—those people who, despite ample evidence to the contrary, deny that six million Jews were murdered by Nazi Germany. Those who cannot remember the past are bound to repeat it.
I want my daughters to read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD—to feel the oppression and pain and cruelty of racism, to understand why the scars of slavery are still raw in this country. I would also point out that the book, if anything, promotes unity and racial understanding. Atticus Finch is a white attorney defending a wrongfully accused black man, Tom Robinson. (Sound like something that could happen in 2011?) He knows that the jury will find the accused guilty, and knows that taking the case may be a career-ending move, but he defends Tom anyway, because it is the right and just thing to do. When he suspects that a lynch mob may come for his client, he camps out in front of the jail, alone and unarmed. Atticus is a hero.
Consider this conversation, between Atticus, his son Jem, and his sister Alexandra, at home after the guilty verdict is handed down:
“It ain’t right, Atticus,” said Jem.
“No son, it’s not right.”
Aunt Alexandra was waiting up. […] “I didn’t think it wise in the first place to let them—”
“This is their home, sister,” said Atticus. “We’ve made it this way for them, they might as well learn to cope with it.”
“But they don’t have to go to the courthouse and wallow in it—”
“It’s just as much Maycomb County as missionary teas.” […]
“Atticus—” said Jem bleakly.
He turned 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—seems that only children weep.”
It’s like Harper Lee is addressing her critics in this passage. She reminds us that racism is part of the history of this country; that our children need to know about its terrible legacy; and that children understand the moral wrongness when adults might have grown complacent.
Continuing our coversation from Banned Book Week, please let us know what you think of Laura's thoughts on schools or libraries banning TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.