At ten years old, my father told me to check out a book I had never heard of, much less read, from the local library. He told me it was a novel everyone should read regardless of their age. I would have to argue with him on that latter point because at ten years old, the gravity of the issues raised in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird didn’t quite resonate with me. I was much more interested in the adventures young Scout got into with her older brother, making up ghost stories and pestering her unconventional neighbors. But I would agree with him on the former point. Everyone should read To Kill a Mockingbird. Everyone.
Last week Biloxi, Ms., school systems made the controversial decision to take Harper Lee’s acclaimed novel off their eighth grade required reading list due to the language and subject matter of the book. In a statement made to The Sun Herald, vice president of the Biloxi School Board, Kenny Holloway, said “There is some language in the book that makes people uncomfortable, and we can teach the same lesson with other books.”
Now, I never had the opportunity to meet Ms. Lee prior to her death, but I can imagine that if I ever had the pleasure to meet her for a cup of coffee, the revelation of “I wrote the book to make people feel more comfortable” would have never come up.
If To Kill a Mockingbird makes you uncomfortable, then good. If the racial slurs and actions taken by the characters of the novel make you uncomfortable, then good. If you as a reader come to the same slow revelations that Scout as a character and a young girl come too, then good. The book is still doing its job and you’re still a human being. The novel was not meant to make people comfortable. It was meant to reveal the gross racial atrocities of the time. It was meant to wake people up. It forces its reader to recognize the world isn’t always just black and white – something society today should probably take note of.
The first time I read the book, I remember being appalled with the jury’s final verdict at the end of the trial. A jury convicted a black man with a physical disability that rendered him incapable of committing the crimes of which he was accused – somehow reaching the equivalent of justice for the residents of Maycomb, Al,. I remember asking my parents how they could have made that decision. My mother responded simply, “You have to remember the times.”
10-year-old Cheryl was searching for a justice that couldn’t be found in a generation then. And yet future generations are doomed to repeat the same mistakes without books like To Kill a Mockingbird. The banning of books with themes similar to this novel takes away a growing mind’s ability to develop senses for things like empathy, morality, justice, and right vs wrong. Without those things, what is the point of literature? Sure we can entertain our children with heroic tales of knights defeating dragons but don’t we want our children to learn the value of courage and determination along the way? Otherwise our stories become nothing more than just superficial words on a page. Our children learn skills like sentence structure and long division but nothing about what it means to be a part of humanity.
Cheryl Nuzum is the Editor-in-Chief of Reflector Magazine. She is a senior English major from Snellville, Ga. Her love for literature began as a child and has only grown since. To Kill a Mockingbird is her favorite novel.