In the fall I was going north to college, and on those muggy summer nights, with the humming of the pumps and the susurrus of katydids in my ears, I read a lot of Faulkner.
He was my literary god, fierce, remote, and immortal.
Then, when his sister declares that this is the “last straw,” he answers reasonably: “Depends on how you look at it …
What was one Negro, more or less, among two hundred of ’em?
That doesn’t come as a surprise, not in this novel where there is never any real confusion about what’s right or wrong, good or bad, and who is innocent or guilty.
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“It’s interesting that all the folks that are buying it don’t know they are reading a children’s book,” said Flannery O’Connor, who had no patience for moral simplification.Nuggets of unimpeachable wisdom drop regularly from his lips, making nearly every occasion a teaching moment.“Atticus speaks in snatches of dialogue,” said Allen Barra in a 2010 essay in is precisely this ability to tap into an American civic religion. For more than 50 years I have felt slightly churlish for not liking the book as much as most Alabamians, and most Americans, did and do.The story of Scout, Boo Radley, and the noble, crusading Atticus might have started as a novel, but it has long since moved up into a more elevated category—cultural touchstone, American classic, national treasure. My problem with this book dates back to 1961, when I had a summer job in an oil field in south Alabama, not far from Monroeville, the small town that was in the first flush of its reputation as the home of Harper Lee and the setting for My job consisted mostly of clearing brush, but some nights I was stationed at a pump house where I had to read the gauges once an hour; the rest of the time I kept myself awake by reading Southern writers. Keep in mind that, 50-plus years ago, this label , now little more than a marketing category, was charged with electricity.He has never taken Bob Ewell seriously, even though Ewell—the father of the alleged rape victim—spits in his face and threatens to kill his children.By the standards of contemporary parents, Atticus is negligent to the point of culpability; he lets Scout and Jem roam freely, day and night.It’s slipped into usage with some people like ourselves, when they want a common, ugly term to label somebody.” “You aren’t really a nigger-lover then, are you? I do my best to love everybody.” To be sure, Atticus is trying to explain something to a young child in terms she can understand; but in classical tragedy, or in a story by Flannery O’Connor, his display of moral complacency would immediately be perceived as a fatal flaw, and the reader would shift uneasily, knowing that Atticus was headed for certain punishment.In the moral economy of , however, Atticus gets off with a mild scare.He wasn’t Tom to them, he was an escaping prisoner.” Always a great one for looking at things from someone else’s point of view, Atticus empathizes with the guard, not with Tom.Less than two pages later, Scout has settled on her response to Tom’s death: “If Aunty could be a lady at a time like this, so could I.” Thus the tragedy at the core of the novel is neatly wrapped up in a little pair of lessons.