by Jordan Chan
This month marked the 60th anniversary of To Kill A Mockingbird, a classic novel written by Harper Lee and published in 1960. For students in America, the novel is practically required reading because of its excellent storytelling and the virtuous messages it preaches. In fact, in most high schools including LGHS, the novel is a critical part of the mandatory freshman english curriculum. For many students, the novel serves as the entryway into important conversations with their peers about racism and injustice. However, To Kill A Mockingbird is nothing more than that.
“What would Atticus do?” Many well-meaning readers pose this question when confronted with adversity. I realized my problem with To Kill A Mockingbird after contemplating the supposed wisdom of this fictional character so many people choose to live by: To Kill A Mockingbird was not written for people of color; it is a white narrative written from a white perspective for white audiences.
Rather than confronting racism, To Kill A Mockingbird simply points out the obvious fact that racism exists. It perpetuates the idea of a white savior complex, a popular trope in the media that depicts a white character rescuing a non-white character from unfortunate circumstances. The white savior narrative doesn’t benefit people of color. Rather, it uses them as a cipher for white “heroes” to learn from or better themselves with. In To Kill A Mockingbird, racial injustice serves as a catalyst for the rapid character development of white individuals like Jem and Scout. Lee writes these white characters with complexity and depth, and they have unique thoughts, motivations, and desires. However, we cannot say the same about the Black characters in To Kill A Mockingbird. Following the conclusion of the novel, too much information regarding Tom Robinson and his family remains unknown. When Bob Ewell shoots Tom Robinson dead, Lee focuses on Atticus Finch’s defeat rather than the grief of Robinson’s friends and family. It suggests that Black characters may as well not exist outside of white narratives. This idea only serves to silence Black voices.
All things considered, the problems lie less with To Kill A Mockingbird and more with the conversations it sparks in the classroom. When students read texts like To Kill A Mockingbird, they should learn to challenge the ideas they present, rather than accepting them blindly. It is important to analyze their flaws and pair praise with criticism. Otherwise, we remain complicit in the ongoing battle against injustice in our society.