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To Kill a Mockingbird
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Author: Harper Lee > The Great American Novel?

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Jessie J (subseti) | 296 comments I hate the last quote, personally. I don't think that has anything to do with a "Great American Novel." If it sticks in our psyche, then yes, there's something "great" about it. But "teachability"--gack!

And while I love it, I don't think about it daily, or weekly, or monthly--maybe not even every year.

I've never even considered Mockingbird as a candidate for GAM. It may be the Great "Southern" Novel, but that would be my own opinion.


Christopher (chriswinters) Jessie wrote: "I hate the last quote, personally. I don't think that has anything to do with a "Great American Novel." If it sticks in our psyche, then yes, there's something "great" about it. But "teachabilit..."

I think this is a great topic, Everitt. I'm in both yours and Jessie's camp, that of thinking that it's a really good novel, but not quite great. And Jessie makes a great point that it might be the Great Southern Novel. After all, if someone thinks "Southern novel", the free association is more than likely TKAM. For me, it wasn't the fact that it was assigned reading in high school that it didn't knock my socks off; my experience is similar to Jessie's, that "while I love it, I don't think about it daily".

I think one of the big reasons that everyone loves TKAM is its sense of nostalgia. I didn't grow up in the 30s South, but it still feels like I lived Scout's story. I can remember playing outside on hot summer nights, I remember the "haunted house" with the creepy family living in it, and I remember discovering that the world is not as simple or as good as I thought. The only person who can write nostalgia and coming-of-age stories like TKAM is Ray Bradbury (see: Dandelion Wine).

I've actually started a bookshelf for candidates for The Great American Novel, since it's such a great concept to think about. I think The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Grapes of Wrath, and The Catcher in the Rye are great ones. Some newer ones I think are appropriate are Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and Dave Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.


Jessie J (subseti) | 296 comments "The Grapes of Wrath" sprang to mind immediately, and I think "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" is a good candidate. I haven't read "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius," but I am now intrigued...


message 4: by Lawyer, "Moderator Emeritus" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
Everitt wrote: "One thing that TKAM has going for it in the plus column of GAM is that it was published at the outset of the 20th Century civil rights push. "

Following are some horrific numbers. They speak for themselves. It is a national shame, and, yes, a Southern Shame.

You can't just consider the outset of the Civil Rights Movement as being the impetus pushing TKAM to the plus column for a Great American Novel, but the cruelty of history leading up to it.

Lynchings: By State and Race, 1882-1968 *

State White Black Total
Alabama 48 299 347
Arizona 31 0 31
Arkansas 58 226 284
California 41 2 43
Colorado 65 3 68
Delaware 0 1 1
Florida 25 257 282
Georgia 39 492 531
Idaho 20 0 20
Illinois 15 19 34
Indiana 33 14 47
Iowa 17 2 19
Kansas 35 19 54
Kentucky 63 142 205
Louisiana 56 335 391
Maine 1 0 1
Maryland 2 27 29
Michigan 7 1 8
Minnesota 5 4 9
Mississippi 42 539 581
Missouri 53 69 122
Montana 82 2 84
Nebraska 52 5 57
Nevada 6 0 6
New Jersey 1 1 2
New Mexico 33 3 36
New York 1 1 2
North Carolina 15 86 101
North Dakota 13 3 16
Ohio 10 16 26
Oklahoma 82 40 122
Oregon 20 1 21
Pennsylvania 2 6 8
South Carolina 4 156 160
South Dakota 27 0 27
Tennessee 47 204 251
Texas 141 352 493
Utah 6 2 8
Vermont 1 0 1
Virginia 17 83 100
Washington 25 1 26
West Virginia 20 28 48
Wisconsin 6 0 6
Wyoming 30 5 35
Total 1,297 3,446 4,743
*Statistics provided by the Archives at Tuskegee Institute.
http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects...

Below are the highlights of the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. http://www.infoplease.com/spot/civilr...

It wasn't until 1948 that Harry Truman issued an executive order that no member of the armed forces could be discriminated against because of race, creed, or national origin.

1954--The United States Supreme Court decides Brown v. Board of Education overturning the principal that "separate but equal" opportunities were constitutional.

1955--August--Fourteen-year-old Chicagoan Emmett Till is visiting family in Mississippi when he is kidnapped, brutally beaten, shot, and dumped in the Tallahatchie River for allegedly whistling at a white woman. Two white men, J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant, are arrested for the murder and acquitted by an all-white jury. They later boast about committing the murder in a Look magazine interview. The case becomes a cause célèbre of the civil rights movement.

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Emmett Till

1955--December, (Montgomery, Ala.) NAACP member Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat at the front of the "colored section" of a bus to a white passenger, defying a southern custom of the time. In response to her arrest the Montgomery black community launches a bus boycott, which will last for more than a year, until the buses are desegregated Dec. 21, 1956. As newly elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., is instrumental in leading the boycott.

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Arrest of Rosa Parks

1957--September(Little Rock, Ark.) Formerly all-white Central High School learns that integration is easier said than done. Nine black students are blocked from entering the school on the orders of Governor Orval Faubus. President Eisenhower sends federal troops and the National Guard to intervene on behalf of the students, who become known as the "Little Rock Nine."

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Norman Rockwell's "Little Rock"

1960--Feb. 1 (Greensboro, N.C.) Four black students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College begin a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth's lunch counter. Although they are refused service, they are allowed to stay at the counter. The event triggers many similar nonviolent protests throughout the South. Six months later the original four protesters are served lunch at the same Woolworth's counter. Student sit-ins would be effective throughout the Deep South in integrating parks, swimming pools, theaters, libraries, and other public facilities.

This is the history and the state of racial relationships when Harper Lee wrote TKAM. It was a gutsy thing to do. Choose to believe it, or not, it took courage to write and publish this novel at the time Harper Lee did it.

There is no suppose to the proposition that lawyers were once children, although I have wondered on rare occasion about a few. I am a lawyer who was a child during the tumult of the civil rights movement when things turned violent. I am pushing 60 now. But I still remember seeing the Klan march in my home town. They waved signs at black American families saying "Coon served here" outside a family restaurant near the University of Alabama Campus.

I remember the Whites Only and Blacks Only signs at water fountains and over restroom doors.

I watched George Wallace stand in the door of Foster Auditorium to bar admission of black students to the University of Alabama. Though I watched on television the event was happening only three miles from my home.

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George Wallace in the Schoolhouse Door

A man named Bobby Shelton was the Grand Dragon of the KKK. Headquarters were in my own home County. The Klan was finally bankrupted in Alabama in 1981 by a suit filed by Morris Dees who founded the Southern Poverty Law Center when he successfully sued the Klan for lynching a young black man Michael Donald who was hung from a street lamp in Mobile, Alabama.

Today "Hate Crimes" abound. They are classified as a crime in a unique category resulting in higher penalties upon conviction. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hate_crime

Now, Alabama lawmakers are embroiled in seeking to pass an immigration law more strict than Arizona's.

The central character of TKAM, Atticus Finch, has influenced countless men and women to become attorneys. Both Atticus Finch and Gavin Stevens, fictional characters, influenced me to pursue a legal career.

So, in answer to whether TKAM is THE GAN, my answer is there is no single Great American Novel. It is a subjective question unique to the individual reader.

However, as long as racism and prejudice against any class exists in our country or in the world, TKAM will remain a positive force to counter those negative attitudes. And for that, TKAM is among the great American Novels. There are many of them.

Mike
Lawyer Stevens


Jessie J (subseti) | 296 comments For future discussions, let me add the Southern Poverty Law Center's 2011 "hate map" of active hate groups:

http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed...

There are lots more--these are just the ones that fulfill the "active" definition by SPLC.


message 6: by Lawyer, "Moderator Emeritus" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
Jessie wrote: "For future discussions, let me add the Southern Poverty Law Center's 2011 "hate map" of active hate groups:

http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed...

There are lots more--these are just the ..."


Thanks, Jessie. Good addition. In front of the Center is a large water feature. Rushing streams of water fall over a plaque reading, "Until Justice Flows Down Like Waters."--Amos 5:24. A visit to the Center is something not soon forgotten.


Franky | 327 comments I agree with many of the points here. I do think that, like Mike said, it is a bit subjective to choose a great American novel. I would consider The Grapes of Wrath closer example to a great American novel, mainly because it not only deals with the Depression era, hope of finding a piece of the American Dream, but also the many obstacles the Okies faced along the way. It is a little bit more all encompassing about many aspects of American culture. However, To Kill a Mockingbird is still a great Southern novel, one of the finest ever written, as Christopher pointed out.


Jayme I think a great American novel should reflect the time period that it was written and be an honest portrayal of that time period. Therefore, we can't possibly have one great American novel - times change.


message 9: by M.L. (last edited Jun 02, 2012 03:49PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

M.L. | 69 comments What a great question! (Mods, this group has the best discussions!)

I think it is the Great American Novel. The GANs - and thanks for the list! - seem to be about and by the 'dominant' aka 'white' society, so for a Great 'American' Novel, since America is a land of immigrants, and still trying to be the great melting pot, you have to include the experience of people of color - somewhere - and the experience is best represented by African Americans, who have continually gotten the worst of it, except for maybe Native Americans. A GAN should also have turmoil, change, and stand at a cross roads signifying those things because America has too many aspects, is too dynamic, to ever be static. Given the racial aspect, this would be my candidate for GAN: Harper Lee wonderfully juxtaposes all elements - race, age, views on mental illness, prejudices entrenched with the help of the legal system - it's really incredible.


message 10: by Lawyer, "Moderator Emeritus" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
Jayme wrote: "I think a great American novel should reflect the time period that it was written and be an honest portrayal of that time period. Therefore, we can't possibly have one great American novel - times ..."

Jayme, I think you've hit the nail on the head. The Zeitqeist element of a particular piece of literature changes as times and attitudes do.

But there are those particular novels that draw us back repeatedly, no matter in what era they were written. So, I agree with you completely that there can be only one great American Novel.

For a fascinating look at the American Novel, tour PBS' website on The Masters, The American Novel. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americannovel...

Mike
Lawyer Stevens


Jessie J (subseti) | 296 comments Everitt wrote: "I've tried working through Chabon's writing before..."

Me too, and "Kavalier and Clay" is the only one that I managed to finish. I *loved* it. I think that one is worth a shot, even if you dislike Chabon in general.

It definitely fits the zeitgeist criteria, as well (which is, I think, a good one).

Another thing that might indicate a Great American Novel is our desire to revisit it and reshape it in some way. The best example of this (*not* American) would probably be Shakespeare, which has been redone and reworked in any number of ways to reflect different eras and ideas. Maybe "Huckleberry Finn" fits into this category.

I noticed some items from the Wikipedia list and the PBS list that caught my eye:

1. "Moby Dick" is a very strong contender (did anyone read Ahab's Wife, or The Star-Gazer? Naslund is from Birmingham, AL, I believe--great book!).

2. Just finished a reread of "Little, Big" with another group. Its influences are still too British, to me, for it to be a serious contender.

3. Octavia Butler might be a good author to be on the list. If we put one post-apocalyptic novelist on there, though, that opens up a whole can of worms.

4. "Song of Solomon" probably could move to the Great American Novel list rather than the Great Southern Novel list.


Randall Luce | 138 comments Like others here, I don't think you can come up with one Great American Novel because this country is just too diverse in region, race, and era for one book to encompass everything. Perhaps Huckleberry Finn comes closest. I'd include Invisible Man on any list of GANs. (For what it's worth, my personal favorite Great Southern Novel is All the King's Men.)

I don't think anybody can overstate the courage it took for Harper Lee to write Mockingbird when she did. But I think people nowadays often read it through a modern lens. It wasn't about segregation -- I don't think Atticus speaks a word about segregation in the whole book. (I now wait for somebody to prove me wrong!) It was about simple justice for a black man wrongfully accused. The lynching numbers up above show just how "controversial" simple justice was at the time Mockingbird came out (view spoiler). I think that it's important to remember that, in terms of what this country was, and what it is today. That Mockingbird is so beloved today is some measure of what we've gone through and, hopefully, Harper Lee took some pride in her small role in that journey.


message 13: by Lawyer, "Moderator Emeritus" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
Randall wrote: "Like others here, I don't think you can come up with one Great American Novel because this country is just too diverse in region, race, and era for one book to encompass everything. Perhaps Huckle..."

Beautifully stated.

Mike
Lawyer Stevens


message 14: by Lawyer, "Moderator Emeritus" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
Jessie wrote: "Everitt wrote: "I've tried working through Chabon's writing before..."

Me too, and "Kavalier and Clay" is the only one that I managed to finish. I *loved* it. I think that one is worth a shot, e..."


I would add Beloved by Toni Morrison.

And, yes, I love Ahab's Wife, or The Star-Gazer by Sena Jeter Naslund. But more in the Southern genre, have you read her Four Spirits dealing with the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham in the 1960s which she witnessed growing up there. The four spirits are those of the four children killed in the bombing of the Sixteenth Avenue Baptist Church on September 15, 1963. It would make an excellent group read.

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The bombing was carried out by members of the Ku Klux Klan.

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The four girls killed during the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. Clockwise from top left: Addie Mae Collins (aged 14), Cynthia Wesley (aged 14), Carole Robertson (aged 14) and Denise McNair (aged 11)

Mike
Lawyer Stevens


Jessie J (subseti) | 296 comments Mike wrote: "But more in the Southern genre, have you read her Four Spirits dealing with the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham in the 1960s which she witnessed growing up there. The four spirits are those of the four children killed in the bombing of the Sixteenth Avenue Baptist Church on September 15, 1963. It would make an excellent group read."

Haven't read that one, and I'd love to read it with the group. She is one of those authors that I read just for the language.


message 16: by M.L. (new) - rated it 4 stars

M.L. | 69 comments Everitt wrote: "Thanks Flash, so glad you are enjoying the discussions.

The inclusion of the article 'the' tends to make it sound like The Great America Novel is a single entity. I don't believe it is especially..."


This is such an interesting topic and a completely subjective thing. I think most, if not all, would agree that it's not definable in terms of a single book.

But what would be interesting, for the sake of delving further into discussion, would be to pose a hypothetical question:
If you had to choose The Great American Novel, which would you choose? Explain.
And to make it even more interesting, from an academic perspective, not choosing or saying you can't choose one would not be an option.
It would be interesting to see what people came up with. There is certainly no right or wrong answer, it's really a thought-rationale type thing. (I know what my candidate would be :P, and strangely enough, William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom, contributed to it.)
Anyway, this is a fun topic!


Randall Luce | 138 comments Everitt wrote: "I'll throw my word behind The Great Gatsby"

I really like the ending of Gatsby: the "dark fields of the republic" rolling under the night; the "boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." (Actually, that's a very Faulknerian sentiment.)

But, for my money, I'd go, as I said before, with Huckleberry Finn: it's got race, it's got class, it's got the Mississippi River splitting this great country in two, and it's probably the first real exploration of that most American of themes, the individual in rebellion against his society. How many American literary heroes have since followed Huck's footsteps 'lighting out to the territories?' (And there, in it's conclusion, it even has the Wild West. Imagine what that sequel would have been like!)

I think that, for its time, it told more about America than any other book has done in it's time.


message 18: by M.L. (new) - rated it 4 stars

M.L. | 69 comments Great comments Everitt and Randall, so wonderfully expressed . . . hm, more food for thought, very rich. Reading these comments enriches the experience of both books.


Wordsmith (WordsmithIsReading) | 17 comments One interest of note to add: As I was researching my notes and timelines to review "The Help" due to some issues I had with Stockett's premise, I discovered one event that quite literally floored me. And while I get no pleasure in shining the bright light of shame on my own hometown, neither do I think very much of sweeping history under a rug woven with the threads of personal suffering. Having said that, here is an excerpt from my review with the links underneath. I'm curious? How many of you are familiar with the day, or the moniker—"Bloody Tuesday?"

It took place at the First African Baptist Church on June 8, 1964. The young, slim Minister of that church, the Reverend T. Y. Rogers had been placed there by none other than Dr. Martin Luther King himself. He had planned a simple, peaceful walk to the County Courthouse to protest the fact there was no colored drinking fountain for them to drink from and only one colored restroom in the whole building for them to use. Our courthouse is nine stories high.

This was a very well planned operation that came to be known as "Bloody Tuesday." This is in reference to the Selma marches which are referred to as "Bloody Sunday." Indeed, accounts from eyewitness's that day confirm this event was as filled with as much, if not more brutality and violence as would later occur in Selma. A prominent Negro figure in Tuscaloosa Politics, who had a direct line to Dr. King as well as Bobby Kennedy who is now more forthcoming, when saying, "The Selma police and guardsmen learned from what occurred in Tuscaloosa that morning." Over 50 people were so badly injured they required medical attention at the local hospital. Another 90+ were injured but did not seek medical help. There were reports of victims getting wounds sewn up without being cleansed or numbed. It was also said the attack that day on the Church was planned and executed "with Gestapo like tactics."

Tommy Stevenson, a reporter for the Tuscaloosa News, who first reported this story in 2009 makes the call that as this event was sandwiched in-between the bigger events of the bombing at the 16th St. Baptist Church and the Selma marches it just didn't get much press coverage. He also noted, as there were no State or Nat'l media on hand, it made things easier for our local officials in making this ugly incident "go away." But there are still plenty of local Tuscaloosan's who were actually there that day. Some that were injured. Some that were arrested. Some that DID the arresting.

The Tuscaloosa News had won a Pulitzer Prize in 1959 for an editorial taking on the Klan. It IS confusing that media coverage for, what was referred to as "in the hellhole of Alabama" and "gestapo tactics" and "Bloody Tuesday" would have received such sketchy reporting in what was, a very well written, well run newspaper, for that time. I have NEVER, at any stage of my education or reading, come across this incident. I had to go question my mother. The year was 1964, we, at that time were living in Rolla, Missouri, I had a brand new little sister. My mother's memory is vague, at best, on all this. She does, however, recall her mother writing her about the incident. Just another day in the South.

LINKS: Sorry-Some are duplicates to some links posted above.

http://civilrights.ua.edu/?page_id=71
Hanging of Harry Mack
http://civilrights.ua.edu/?page_id=135
Safe House
http://www.watson.org/~lisa/blackhist...
Selma March
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selma_to...
Selma March
http://malonehoodplaza.ua.edu/panorama/
Malone Hood Lucy U of A
http://faculty.smu.edu/dsimon/Change-...
Civil Rights Timeline 1954-1963
http://www.archives.alabama.gov/govs_...
Governor Wallace's Speech at School Room Door
http://www.tuscaloosanews.com/article...
Tuscaloosa Bloody Tuesday
http://www.tuscaloosanews.com/article...
Tuscaloosa Bloody Tuesday
http://stevensonblog.blogs.tuscaloosa...
Tuscaloosa Bloody Tuesday
http://encyclopediaofalabama.org/face...
Amazing Article on how high up the corruption went regarding the murder of Viola Liuzzo. Read This.
http://video.tuscaloosanews.com/video...
Interview with activist Maxie
Thomas
http://stevensonblog.blogs.tuscaloosa...
More on Bloody Tuesday and other things as well. Tommy Stevensons Blog.


Robin Everitt,

I agree - if there's one Great American Novel, Huckleberry Finn is it for me, for reasons you mentioned.

And Hemingway said it really well: "All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called 'Huckleberry Finn.' If you read it you must stop where Jim is stolen from the boys. That is the real end. The rest is just cheating. But it's the best book we've had. All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since."


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