Southern America has been so rich in literary genius. I deliberately endured the temptation to grab the recent bestseller The Help (which has also come out as a hit movie) for my current embark on this classic by the Alabaman lawyer, Harper Lee.
I got myself familiar with the traditions and prejudices in American South mostly by reading Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell who was primarily occupied by the historical event of American Civil War. Compared to the relatively recent books I mentioned above, the theme of ‘racism’ is not as foremost in Mitchell’s story as the pride and legitimacy of the social mentality prevalent in that particular time and place. I have never experienced American South outside of a library, but the recent authorship of The Help seems to illustrate that the discussion of racial difference has not quite ended yet. (if the issues of racism have been truly and fully resolved, why do people still write about it???)
Atticus Finch, the famous central character of To Kill a Mockingbird, demonstrates how much changes have taken place in the region since the Civil War. No single character in Gone with the Wind speaks in a such a clear and outward voice of reason, law, fairness and equality. The moral values and commitments of Atticus Finch could not have found its place in Scarlette’s Georgia where slavery was still imperative in its daily life. That is, there was simply nobody present in Tara to understand and interpret the justice and legitimacy of the Emancipation Proclamation or the Thirteenth Amendment. That’s why Atticus Finch is so heavily present in the novel, although he stands somewhat distant from Jem and Scout’s carefree childhood, Maycomb majority, as well as his obligations outside of his profession as attorney and senator.
While reading the book, I often imagined what would it be like to have a father like Atticus. At first, I was quite stricken by Scout and Jem calling their own father ‘sir’ or simply ‘Atticus.’ At the same time, I was impressed with the amount of openness and confidence the Finches share with each other. After all, Atticus was exceptional homemaker who knew how to influence children in a way that any ordinary mother couldn’t know.
Now, I’ve finished To Kill a Mockingbird. Would I advance to another southern American story? No thanks, at least for now. I’d like to explore how society under Russian Tsar worked in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina…