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Learning through childhood innocence

In the1962 classic, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” lawyer Atticus Finch defends Tom, a black man who is found guilty of something he didn’t do.

By KATE THURSTON - kthurston@newsexaminer.com

“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 is why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

Harper Lee is a mastermind.

I can’t believe how many people I talk to who have never watched the 1962 classic, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” or read the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel published in 1960 that has sold over 30 million copies.

This movie has so many deep lessons, especially for the era that the movie depicted. Reviewer Marc Lee wrote, “the story is in the characters, their failings and fragility, their heroism and nobility of spirit. It’s in the depiction of heart-breaking cruelty and heart-warming humanity. It’s in the innocence of a child’s world overshadowed by the evil that adults do.”

I couldn’t have said it better.

Scout who is six, and her brother, Jem grow up in the summer in 1932 in a deprived, racist southern town where their father, Atticus Finch, played by the amazing Gregory Peck, is a lawyer. The film allows us to see the good and evil of the world through the eyes of the tomboy daughter, Scout.

The real story begins when Atticus has to defend a black man, Tom Robinson, who is falsely accused of raping a white woman. Atticus knows going in that he won’t win, but he fights a hard fight and tells his children, “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand ... courage is not a man with a gun in his hand. It’s knowing you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.”

After Tom is found guilty, the children confront Atticus. They want to know why the morals they were taught weren’t in play for Tom. Events afterwards confuse Jem and he struggles to come to term with life and how people are treated.

The scene where Scout confronts the mob outside of the cell where Robinson was being held really got to me. Atticus stands guard outside the cell with a book, lamp and a chair. When the children arrive to see what their father is doing, you can see that Scout is unsure of what is happening. She sees angry men being rude to her father for standing up for a black man and through her eyes, he is just another person. She doesn’t understand why friends of her father are being mean and threatening him. She even calls a man out who her father helped with a legal situation. He was poor and paid Atticus back with nuts. Scout goes on to remind the man to tell his son hello, they went to school together. At that moment, the crowd has a moment and realizes how animal-like they are acting.

Boo Radley, played by Robert Duvall, in his first movie appearance, has a large role in the film as a neighbor down the street in a dilapidated home who has mental issues. Rumor has it he stabbed his father and is chained to a bed. They say he is crazy and the kids are scared of him. Later, you learn more about his character and the fondness Scout grows for him.

Throughout the film you learn that Boo, Tom and the children are all symbols of innocence. This is where the mockingbird plays in, because they show the sign of innocence. When a mockingbird is killed, innocence is destroyed. The tragedy of Tom Robinson much resembles killing a mockingbird: he did nothing wrong and only helped people. Just as Boo does.

The movie and the novel just go to show us that there are good people who don’t get the right treatment, even when they do no wrong. No matter how innocent they are, no matter what good they do, sometimes people just choose not to see it. 

The movie’s purpose shows the world the injustice of prejudice by putting it in the eyes of a child, Scout.

If you haven’t watched the film, I highly suggest it. It gives a unique outlook on how people treat others and how sometimes this world isn’t fair, no matter what kind of person you are, no matter what you do, sometimes there is injustice.

I feel so strongly about this film and what it represents I have a tattoo stating, “It is a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

Kate Thurston is a Connersville News-Examiner reporter: kthurston@newsexaminer.com or 765-825-0588 ext. 222.