Danahey on the Loose about To Kill A Mockingbird

Mockingbird court scene
Richard Thomas as Atticus Finch and Yaegel T. Welch as Tom Robinson

 

The Broadway tour of To Kill A Mockingbird, Aaron Sorkin’s stage adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel, just ended its stay in Chicago.

Toward the beginning of the play, one of my initial thoughts was that Richard Thomas, who stars as Atticus Finch, is way shorter than he looks on TV.

But things frequently aren’t as they seem or how we remember them.

Toward that, since it’s been a very long time since I read To Kill A Mockingbird, I read a lot about the book and the play, both before and after attending it.

Yes, I traveled down a virtual Mockingbird rabbit hole. I did my own research and concluded Lee didn’t write the book. Her friend Truman Capote wrote it. The government paid them to do it. To get kids to take the polio vaccine.

Or not.

Here’s what I actually found:

I viewed an interview Sorkin did with Northwestern professor Ivy Wilson for the Writers Museum;s American Writers Festival about putting together To Kill A Mockingbird.

Sorkin talks about the choices he made, giving the Black characters more voice and depth than they had in Lee’s novel. He discusses giving Atticus Finch more shades of gray, too.

Past Mockingbird, Sorkin mentions he’s rewriting the book for the Kennedy-era musical, Camelot.

He also mentions that Mockingbird was staged for an audience of New York City public school kids, in the round at Madison Square Garden.

 

Mockingbird porch scene
Justin Mark as Jem Finch, Richard Thomas as Atticus Finch, Melanie Moore as Scout Finch and Steven Lee Johnson as Dill Harris

 

To this day, To Kill A Mockingbird is not without its share of controversy, particularly when it comes to teaching the book in school.

I learned that To Kill A Mockingbird is required reading in Ireland’s schools. There, too, some people want to ban the book from the classroom.

An Idaho legislator had issues with how To Kill A Mockingbird was being taught, by a substitute teacher, no less. The legislator claimed the novel was indoctrination into critical race theory.

I’m pretty sure the legislator doesn’t know what critical race theory is. He certainly doesn’t realize that a shaky second hand account of something doesn’t count as proof of anything. Atticus Finch would have eaten this knucklehead for breakfast.

A Seattle area school district took Mockingbird off the required reading list. The board feared the book’s use of the N word might traumatize some kids and encourage others to use it. Never mind how or why the book uses the N word. Never mind that I’m pretty sure a good many kids of all sorts these days listen to rap music where the N word comes up quite frequently.

That led me to this opinion piece about Pulitzer Prize winner Kendrick Lamar, a rapper whose work frequently includes the N word. It reminded me of what comedian Richard Pryor had to say about why he stopped using the N word.

Six white Florida middle school students spelled out the N word to make a social media post and use a watermelon image for one of the letters. Their parents must be proud.

Lest we think stupid racist stunts are just a Southern thing, here’s a story from the far northwest suburbs of Chicago about a really cringe-worthy prom proposal. Not only is it racist, but the premise of this alleged joke makes absolutely no sense. Also, racist attempt at humor aside, to get a young woman’s attention, you’re using a Sharpie and poster board? Really?

Another genius, a private school teacher in Michigan, asked his class to identify the primate among photo choices. He offered Barack Obama as one of the options.

Then there’s what happened recently when the Yankees played the White Sox. In case you missed it, Yankee-nobody-seems-to-like Josh Donaldson thought he was being funny calling White Sox star Tim Anderson Jackie Robinson.

Even some Yankees fans saw what happened as problematic. Then again, some others didn’t. They booed Anderson, who responded with his bat. He hit a home run.

Ignorance, fear and hatred combine with weaponry, mental illness and some rabbit holes found online, yields deadly results. The mass murderer in Buffalo  killed Black people because he’s been convinced that somehow and for some reason minorities are replacing white folks.

You’ve got to be carefully taught, indeed.

For some reason, that brought me to this story about the recently-aired final episode of the acclaimed Irish sitcom, Derry Girls.

One of the stars, Siobhan McSweeney, told the BBC she received numerous troubling messages. People told her that Derry Girls taught them more about the history of Northern Ireland and Britain than anything that they had been taught in school.

The last episode of Derry Girls focuses on the Good Friday Accord. That’s in jeopardy now because of bumbling, finagling, conniving, duplicitous UK prime minister Boris Johnson.

What this has to do with To Kill a Mockingbird I’m not exactly sure.

That’s the thing with rabbit holes.

Then it dawned on me. At the very least, I could find a few quotes from the novel to end this piece. Here goes:

  • There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep ‘em all away from you. That’s never possible.
  • There’s something in our world that makes men lose their heads. They couldn’t be fair if they tried.
  • It’s never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you.
  • If there’s just one kind of folks, why can’t they get along with each other? If they’re all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other? Scout, I think I’m beginning to understand something. I think I’m beginning to understand why Boo Radley’s stayed shut up in the house all this time… it’s because he wants to stay inside.

I should really read the book again. Me and a lot of folks.

Mockingbird court scene
Arianna Gayle Stucki as Mayella Ewell, Richard Thomas as Atticus Finch, Stephen Elrod ( ad the bailiff, Richard Poe as Judge Taylor, Greg Wood as Mr. Roscoe and Joey Collins as Bob Ewell

 

All photos by Julieta Cervantes