Literary Wisdom

Literary Wisdom: To Kill a Mockingbird, Part Two

This is the last post of the “Literary Wisdom: To Kill a Mockingbird” blog series. If you’d like to read the previous post, you can do so here. Thank you!

“She knew full well the enormity of her offense, but because her desires were stronger than the code she was breaking, she persisted in breaking it. She persisted, and her subsequent reaction is something that all of us have known at one time or another. She did something every child has done—she tried to put the evidence of her offense away from her.” ~Atticus Finch, Chapter Twenty

Though desire vs. law is the most predominant conflict in human history, Atticus’ speech reveals its often-overlooked simplicity. When we desire something so desperately that we leave behind our conscience in the pursuit of it, we tend to disregard the reality that our satisfaction is always temporary—more like a puff of cloud than a bar of gold. And when we finally realize our foolishness, we shudder under those who witnessed our wild goose chase and try to place blindfolds around them.

Nevertheless, our shame is never truly hidden. Was it not Queen Gertrude who said that “guilt…spills itself in fearing to be spilt” (see “Literary Wisdom: Hamlet, Act Four”) — and was it not God who, upon looking at our woeful existence, said:

“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” ~Hebrews 8:10, ESV

“You know the truth, and the truth is this: some Negroes lie, some Negroes are immoral, some Negro men are not to be trusted around women—black or white. But this is a truth that applies to the human race and to no particular race of men.” ~Atticus Finch, Chapter Twenty

I once took an Answers in Genesis apologetics class made up of lectures from Ken Ham; whenever I think of this quote, his voice comes clear as day to me: “There is only one race—the human race!” (paraphrased) As such, I love the way Atticus Finch draws truth to the fact that skin color does not determine superiority/inferiority, though he does suggest that there are subdivisions within the human race.

“For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” ~First Corinthians 12:13-14, NKJV

“Our courts have their faults, as does any human institution, but in this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are created equal.” ~Atticus Finch, Chapter Twenty

When I think of this quote, I cannot help but also think of my pastor’s words: “The ground is level at the cross.” No, Atticus is not discussing Christianity, but in portraying the court’s role in the light he is shining, as the breaker of barriers and the purger of partiality, we are able to see that earthly courts are simply imitators of God’s judgement seat. Our punishments and pardons both are based on our true spiritual state, not on the gild of fame or the protection of being “well-to-do.” At the ideal court, “all men are created equal.”

“If it is a matter of strength, indeed He is strong; And if of justice, who will appoint my day in court?” ~Job 9:19, NKJV

“We are a democracy[.] Over here we don’t believe in persecuting anybody. Persecution comes from people who are prejudiced.” ~Schoolteacher, Chapter Twenty-Six

“Jem, how can you hate Hitler so bad an’ then turn around and be ugly about folks right at home?” ~Scout Finch, Chapter Twenty-Six

When we are blinded by hate, we end up committing a hateful practice ourselves. Those who are prejudiced in To Kill a Mockingbird, it seems, were too quick to blame the blacks, and as a result, the whites shared in Hitler’s cardinal sin: treating the ethnically different as inferior.

The irony here is that a little child, Scout Finch, noticed this inconsistent thinking while an adult, who was supposed to be her teacher, was consumed by it. She, although evidently knowing full well that Hitler’s practice was morally unacceptable, was so blinded by her hate of others that she considered herself “too good” for Hitler’s sin. On the contrary, Scout’s love kept her eyes open and her sense, though in many ways not as mature as adults’, undefiled.

“If this thing’s hushed up it’ll be a simple denial to Jem of the way I’ve tried to raise him. Sometimes I think I’m a total failure as a parent, but I’m all they’ve got. Before Jem looks at anyone else he looks at me, and I’ve tried to live so I can look squarely back at him…if I connived at something like this, frankly I couldn’t meet his eye, and the day I can’t do that I’ll know I’ve lost him.” ~Atticus Finch, Chapter Thirty

Some parents discipline their children, and other parents spoil them. Some parents will never sacrifice, while others will lay down anything for the next generation’s good. Atticus Finch, however, endeavors to parent by his child’s eyes.

Those who parent by their children’s eyes—those who are ever conscious of their behavior’s implications—are a rarity, yet when they are found, are also beautiful. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus knows Jem is able to determine the trail his father trod in life, and he also knows that Jem will follow it. Thus, Mr. Finch believes it his duty to decide if the trail he creates will end in destruction or peace. He may not be responsible for his child’s entry into heaven or hell, but he wants to take every chance he can at guiding his child to the narrow way. It is only then that he can say, as the Apostle Paul did to the Corinthians,

“Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” ~First Corinthians 11:1, NKJV

This “Literary Wisdom” series would be amiss without mention of the 1960’s film version of To Kill a Mockingbird, starring Gregory Peck’s Academy Award-winning portrayal of Atticus Finch. Although it’s not one of my favorite movies, it’s nonetheless a tried-and-true black-and-white classic.

As always, stay tuned for the next blog post—and “remember that it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird”:)


~Sarah Merly

January 30, 2018

Isaiah 53