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To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 13 - 18 
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 To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 13 - 18
To Kill a Mockingbird


Please use this thread to discuss Chapters 13 through 18.



Wed Oct 21, 2020 6:27 pm
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Post Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 13 - 18
Part Two begins with Chapter 12, so I am taking the liberty to include comments on this chapter to open this thread.

Jem is growing up, creating some tension with Scout. But the first thing that caught my eye in this chapter was this slightly cryptic cartoon:
Quote:
We were surprised one morning to see a cartoon in the Montgomery Advertiser above the caption, “Maycomb’s Finch.” It showed Atticus barefooted and in short pants, chained to a desk: he was diligently writing on a slate while some frivolous looking girls yelled, “Yoo-hoo!” at him.
The idea seems to be that Atticus is an innocent child who does not understand what he has got into in defending a black man charged with raping a white woman. The girls just seem to be a distraction from the blatant racist intent of the cartoon, which is that no self-respecting white lawyer would defend a black who deserves to be lynched.

The Advertiser has an interesting history, explained at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montgomery_Advertiser

Starting in 1829 as The Planter’s Gazette, The Advertiser provided political cover for the lynching movement, but then won a Pulitzer for its campaign against the Klan, before reverting to hostility toward civil rights in the 1950s.

Anyways (a word we don’t use in Australia and which I saw criticised today), the point of the cartoon is that racial tensions in lil’ ol’ Maycomb are getting noticed in the big smoke, the state capital of Alabama, with Atticus a well enough known public figure to become a prominent object of ridicule and hostility.

My analysis is not evidently shared by the sagaciously precocious Jem, although Scout seems to have cottoned on that the cartoon might not be totally supportive toward Atticus.
Quote:
“That’s a compliment,” explained Jem. “He spends his time doin‘ things that wouldn’t get done if nobody did ’em.” “Huh?” In addition to Jem’s newly developed characteristics, he had acquired a maddening air of wisdom. “Oh, Scout, it’s like reorganizing the tax systems of the counties and things. That kind of thing’s pretty dry to most men.” “How do you know?” “Oh, go on and leave me alone. I’m readin‘ the paper.” Jem got his wish. I departed for the kitchen.


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Post Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 13 - 18
Chapter 13 brings the formidable Aunt Alexandra, sister of Atticus, to stay with the Finches ‘for a while’, to provide feminine influence on Scout as she develops interest in clothes and boys. I like how Lee describes the thump of her suitcase on the floor as having a dull permanence.

Maycomb welcomed her, reflecting her interest in church, clothes, food, gossip and traditional propriety:
Quote:
“Aunt Alexandra was one of the last of her kind: she had river-boat, boarding-school manners; let any moral come along and she would uphold it; she was born in the objective case; she was an incurable gossip. When Aunt Alexandra went to school, self-doubt could not be found in any textbook, so she knew not its meaning. She was never bored, and given the slightest chance she would exercise her royal prerogative: she would arrange, advise, caution, and warn.”


Her obsession with heredity and family prestige reflects detailed historical knowledge of the mildly incestuous context of Maycomb, in which the Finch family has high status that has not been properly explained to the semi-feral children Jem and Scout. Atticus is incapable of the racial logic required to properly understand family pride in the way Aunt Alexandra demands. The caste system of Maycomb is very real, but in her view does not even include blacks, who as per our current discussion of Caste by Isabel Wilkerson are America’s Untouchables, to be resolutely ignored.

Quote:
There was indeed a caste system in Maycomb, but to my mind it worked this way: the older citizens, the present generation of people who had lived side by side for years and years, were utterly predictable to one another: they took for granted attitudes, character shadings, even gestures, as having been repeated in each generation and refined by time. Thus the dicta No Crawford Minds His Own Business, Every Third Merriweather Is Morbid, The Truth Is Not in the Delafields, All the Bufords Walk Like That, were simply guides to daily living.


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Post Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 13 - 18
Aunt Alexandra is an interesting character, and it seems to me to be revealing that Atticus would let her come be her caste-ridden self around his children, probably more concerned about his preoccupation with the case and its politics and the possible trouble facing his children, than about their potential indoctrination with racism. If we see him as a crusader like a post-60s vegetarian critic of television and materialism, we have it all wrong. He is mainly a practical man who cares about his neighbors and wants to uphold judicious ways that have a touch of class, and that includes having a genuine conscience rather than pre-fabricated notions required by other people.

This turned into a landmark book about taking on racism, but I wonder if it isn't really more of a book about taking on conformity.



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Post Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 13 - 18
Yes, I think Atticus is a representation of a conventional non boat-rocker, whose distinction is that when called on he doesn't duck his duty, as he well might have. The ordinary man who becomes defined in high relief by a quality that as far as others could see, was latent until the moment it was activated. That quality was devotion to justice, which the court represented.

The observation about caste is the narrator's--Scout's, not Alexandra's. I've been interested in the two levels of narrative voice, one that of the 8-yr.-old and one of the same person some years later, looking back. A reason for that split could be that Go Set a Watchman was written in the third person, but reflecting the outlook of the mature Jean Louise. In rewriting that book, Lee retained some of that narrative voice. A few passages in the books are similar, though I don't recall whether the one about caste is in Watchman.

I was surprised, nonetheless, after reading the sentence about caste, to see that the narrator doesn't deal with anything close to what we might think of as caste. There appears to be a lack of insight in this particular instance, or at least an entirely different view of what caste is.



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Post Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 13 - 18
DWill wrote:
I was surprised, nonetheless, after reading the sentence about caste, to see that the narrator doesn't deal with anything close to what we might think of as caste. There appears to be a lack of insight in this particular instance, or at least an entirely different view of what caste is.


Quote:
There was indeed a caste system in Maycomb, but to my mind it worked this way: the older citizens, the present generation of people who had lived side by side for years and years, were utterly predictable to one another: they took for granted attitudes, character shadings, even gestures, as having been repeated in each generation and refined by time. Thus the dicta No Crawford Minds His Own Business, Every Third Merriweather Is Morbid, The Truth Is Not in the Delafields, All the Bufords Walk Like That, were simply guides to daily living


I guess I took it to be an expression of people's views on the immutability of character as passed down through family. It is interesting to speculate whether it is meant to be the view of young Scout or of grown Jean Louise, or even of Harper Lee herself. Either way, however, I think it is aimed mainly at the unexpected perspective. Thinking of caste as the result of reincarnation, for example, one is fated to the position one occupies. She is apparently recognizing these enduring family traits as a kind of freezing of positions, a fate from which one cannot escape. It's a dizzying notion, really, as if there are archetypal personalities and one's family leanings steer one into a particular role in an inescapable way. And yet it captures something essential about the interactions of personalities in a closed system.

And it raises the question whether the escape of Harper Lee and the parallel move of Truman Capote might have been, themselves, fated by the positions their parents occupied (with a little boost from genetics).

Surely, as you say, not the hierarchical notion of caste we are studying in Wilkerson's book.



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Post Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 13 - 18
Into the thick of the trial scenes. Captivating. Mostly I am hanging back on those so that Robert can lead.

But I have to say the scene in which the Cunninghams from the countryside confront Atticus was far better than anything I could remember of the book or movie. You really get to see Atticus off balance, and Scout's intervention by attempted normalcy is superbly rendered. We can feel a little bit of her feeling of being in over her head, of needing to bring some sense to the situation without really grasping that the situation needs some calm and thoughtful intervention. Her empathetic reaction to the man's son may not even be part of his awareness, but it is part of the flow of social interaction that is occurring.

It seems to me that Scout's ability to treat others as just other people penetrates to the Cunningham's heart in a way that no rational words could have. "An entail sure is complicated, isn't it?"

There is a famous scene in "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" in which Tess encounters the parents of Angel Clare while she is is dire distress. If she had felt she could turn to them for help, she would have been saved, but the distance between them, their very propriety and generosity, puts her off. The scene is a symbol for vast social forces, the kind Thomas Hardy so expertly saw and showed. It seems to me that this scene of Scout's blundering, innocent intervention that paradoxically saves the situation ranks with such an all-time great symbolism.



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Post Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 13 - 18
Harry Marks wrote:
There is a famous scene in "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" in which Tess encounters the parents of Angel Clare while she is is dire distress. If she had felt she could turn to them for help, she would have been saved, but the distance between them, their very propriety and generosity, puts her off. The scene is a symbol for vast social forces, the kind Thomas Hardy so expertly saw and showed. It seems to me that this scene of Scout's blundering, innocent intervention that paradoxically saves the situation ranks with such an all-time great symbolism.

It must be the film you're referring to. I couldn't recall the scene in the book, which I recently reread. I find that Tess came to Angel's parents' house when everyone was away at church. She loses her resolve and trods back to the farm that employed her, not before hearing some unpleasant chatter from Angel's brothers. An interesting choice by Polanski to have Tess encounter her in-laws. I should watch the film again.

So I reread The Mayor of Casterbidge, too. Not being up to another go at Jude the Obscure yet, I'm reading Under the Greenwood Tree for the first time. I can't see how this one can turn dark; supposedly, it remains light in tone. Hardy is absolutely the best at capturing the folkways of these rural people, making them fully dimensional as well. I wondered how he came by this intimate knowledge and got some insight from Claire Tomalin's biography. I'm a fan of Hardy's poetry, too.

We can also turn to Hardy to find profound commentary on caste.



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Post Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 13 - 18
I’m going to skip Chapter 14, in which Dill returns. Chapter 15 begins with more children’s games, and then abruptly

Quote:
There’s some men outside in the yard, they want you to come out.” In Maycomb, grown men stood outside in the front yard for only two reasons: death and politics. I wondered who had died. Jem and I went to the front door, but Atticus called, “Go back in the house.”

Harper Lee continues this touchingly naïve characterisation of Scout as at once with the wisdom of the ancients and the innocence of a child. Of course no one has died. This is about politics.

Mr. Heck Tate, Maycomb sheriff, explains in code that Atticus needs to work out how to avoid Tom Robinson getting lynched by out of towners when he is brought to the Maycomb county jail for trial. In response to the query as to why he is putting himself at such risk by taking on this case, Atticus explains it is a pure commercial arrangement, which fools no one.

The problem is whether Maycomb is still sufficiently racist in the 1930s to allow lynching, or whether the official process of justice should take precedence. This is a dilemma for the sheriff. When Jem subsequently asks, Atticus explains that the visiting men were his friends.

Then Aunty hectors Atticus about disgracing the family by representing Tom Robinson. Atticus responds with the key moral statement of opposition to “preserving polite fiction at the expense of human life.” As we will discover, the “polite fiction” is that blacks are automatically guilty on accusation, a straight descendant of “the peculiar institution” of the moral abomination of industrial slavery.

Atticus continues the business discussions after church on Sunday, attended this week unusually by a number of men who don’t usually go, including Mr Underwood, owner, editor and printer of the Maycomb Tribune. That evening, after the “fake peace” of Sunday, Atticus bids the family goodnight with the announcement he is driving into town with an electric light bulb and extension cord, appurtenances that might not have been so readily available in the heyday of lynching. This curious turn of affairs prompts the children to follow along at 10 pm. Scout and Jem secretly whistle up Dill to explain they have ‘the look arounds’.

They find Atticus under his light, reading oblivious to the nightbugs, sitting outside the venerable and hideous Maycomb County Jail. He tells them to go home. Lee sets the scene by describing the building: “its supporters said the jailhouse gave the town a good solid respectable look, and no stranger would ever suspect that it was full of niggers.”

The expected visitors arrive in four dusty cars, smelling of stale whiskey and pigpen, and request permission to lynch the black alleged rapist. Atticus pleasantly suggests they leave him to sleep. At the disconcerting news from one of these gents that Sheriff Tate is away, Scout runs up to Atticus, who displays a flash of plain fear.

This scene is the climax of the novel, as children stare down a lynch mob with the demands of simple justice, as well as Scout kicking an assailant in the balls. You can just imagine Harper Lee thinking to herself ‘what would I have liked to do’.

Scout explains the scene:
Quote:
“The men were dressed, most of them, in overalls and denim shirts buttoned up to the collars. I thought they must be cold-natured, as their sleeves were unrolled and buttoned at the cuffs. Some wore hats pulled firmly down over their ears. They were sullen-looking, sleepy-eyed men who seemed unused to late hours. I sought once more for a familiar face, and at the center of the semi-circle I found one. “Hey, Mr. Cunningham.”


Scout explains to this reluctant bumbling farmer their family connection through school, where she is in Walter Cunningham’s class. This short speech is a masterful exercise by Lee of humanising the other, recognising connection where oppression requires pure cold-natured caste prejudice. The subtext is that Cunningham accepts that the days of lynch mobs are over, that this group do not have the lack of conscience needed to remove white children blocking their way. They all leave.

Lee has transformed lynching from a celebrated exercise of white supremacy into a contemptible action of dangerous buffoons. We saw the apotheosis of this trajectory last week with the gibbet for Mr. Pence.

After the mob drives off, Tom enquires through the bars as to his safety, and Mr. Underwood emerges with a covering shotgun, leading to a long conversation which sadly Scout is unable to record due to being too sleepy. Atticus massages Jem’s hair, as if to forgive him for having the courage to save Tom Robinson from certain murder.


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Post Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 13 - 18
A second major chapter for today.

Chapter 16 begins with the post-non-mortem, so to speak, of the attempted lynching. Opinions range from Alexandra’s disapproval to Atticus’ statement that “he was right glad his disgraces had come along”.

Editor Underwood, who provided shotgun cover for Atticus at the lynching attempt, cannot abide blacks, Atticus informs us, and “local opinion” informs us he was christened after a Confederate general, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Braxton_Bragg

This dining room table conversation leads to an acute exchange on the immorality of genteel manners.

Quote:
Aunt Alexandra waited until Calpurnia was in the kitchen, then she said, “Don’t talk like that in front of them.” “Talk like what in front of whom?” he asked. “Like that in front of Calpurnia. You said Braxton Underwood despises Negroes right in front of her.” “Well, I’m sure Cal knows it. Everybody in Maycomb knows it.” I was beginning to notice a subtle change in my father these days, that came out when he talked with Aunt Alexandra. It was a quiet digging in, never outright irritation. There was a faint starchiness in his voice when he said, “Anything fit to say at the table’s fit to say in front of Calpurnia. She knows what she means to this family.”


By concealing information about racism from their black servant, Alexandra advocates systematic deception, a life of pretend. She expresses this with the principle that it is essential not to encourage black people, although exactly where she might place the boundaries of such discouragement is left unstated.

Atticus has seen the effects of such lying to make victims unable to fight against discrimination, and will have none of it. This attitude, termed by Scout a “subtle change” in her father, leads to anti-racist positions such as refusing to tolerate intolerance, insisting on respect for human dignity, and what Mr Biden has just called bringing people together in unity to deliver racial justice, as part of his pledge to restore the soul of America.

Atticus explains his own perspective on the soul of America in the following table talk:
Quote:
Alexandra said “I don’t think it’s a good habit, Atticus. It encourages them. You know how they talk among themselves. Every thing that happens in this town’s out to the Quarters before sundown.” My father put down his knife. “I don’t know of any law that says they can’t talk. Maybe if we didn’t give them so much to talk about they’d be quiet. Why don’t you drink your coffee, Scout?” I was playing in it with the spoon. “I thought Mr. Cunningham was a friend of ours. You told me a long time ago he was.” “He still is.” “But last night he wanted to hurt you.” Atticus placed his fork beside his knife and pushed his plate aside. “Mr. Cunningham’s basically a good man,” he said, “he just has his blind spots along with the rest of us.” Jem spoke. “Don’t call that a blind spot. He’da killed you last night when he first went there. “ “He might have hurt me a little,” Atticus conceded, “but son, you’ll understand folks a little better when you’re older. A mob’s always made up of people, no matter what. Mr. Cunningham was part of a mob last night, but he was still a man. Every mob in every little Southern town is always made up of people you know— doesn’t say much for them, does it?” “I’ll say not,” said Jem. “So it took an eight-year-old child to bring ‘em to their senses, didn’t it?” said Atticus. “That proves something—that a gang of wild animals can be stopped, simply because they’re still human. Hmp, maybe we need a police force of children… you children last night made Walter Cunningham stand in my shoes for a minute. That was enough.”
The result of all this, of course, is that the Finch Standoff of Maycomb Jail becomes the hot gossip item for the town. How a single three year old girl wrestled eight grown men to the ground and sent them oinking away with their tails between their legs.

The next point of chatter is who will attend the public trial in the court house, this rather perversely termed ‘gala occasion’, so crowded a fella could not get a hitching rail for his mule.

I have just discovered that the game they play on this grand day, expected to result in solemn judicial execution, called 'pop the whip', involves a group of children lined up together hand-in-hand. One end of the line slings itself forward, causing the child at the other end of the line to receive a violent snap. I had thought it was ruining ties.

Next we meet Mr. Dolphus Raymond, a rich man sitting with the "colored folks". The mystery is explained that he had black mistresses from a young age, and when his society fiancée found out just before her wedding day that he had no monogamous plans in her regard she blew her own head off with a shotgun. Sure shows the world is a complicated place. Which leads Jem and Scout to ponder the mysteries of the 'one drop' principle.

But that mystery is as nothing against the supreme principle of hypocrisy, enunciated in Scout’s crisp summary of a conversation overheard among habitues of the court:
Quote:
The court appointed Atticus to defend him. Atticus aimed to defend him. That’s what they didn’t like about it. It was confusing.
The hypocrisy here is that the supremacists find it reasonable for a court to have the appearance of due process, as long as full care is taken to prevent the reality of due process. The dustup is because Atticus refuses to go along with the charade, and instead makes himself the most admired lawyer in American literature.


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Post Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 13 - 18
Quote:
Four Negroes rose and gave us their front-row seats. The Colored balcony ran along three walls of the courtroom like a second-story veranda, and from it we could see everything.

The court is totally packed and the kids can’t find a seat, until a black reverend arranges these seats, which both enable Scout to provide a detailed account of the proceedings and illustrate the desire of the black community to find white allies. Interesting how the court is so blatantly segregated, but the children of Atticus Finch are happy to break the segregation.

Scout describes the layout of the court room, with the all-white jury (shades of Hurricane) made of rural farmers, not even mentioning they are twelve good men and true, with no women, although apparently women could serve at that time, maybe not in Alabama. Townfolk get excused or struck off, ensuring the jury will be thoroughly racist. Sheriff Tate is in the witness stand.


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Post Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 13 - 18
Chapter 17

Sheriff Tate sets out the case for the prosecution, that on his being called to the Ewell house, the victim informed him that Tom Robinson had raped her. Atticus only asks why they did not seek medical help when she was in obvious need of it. After showing he barely knows right from left, the sheriff explains that the girl (so far unnamed) had strangle marks all around her neck.

All this is rather dull for the children, nowhere near as exciting as an attempted lynching. “With his infinite capacity for calming turbulent seas, Atticus could make a rape case as dry as a sermon.”

It turns out that like Editor Braxton Bragg Underwood, the victim’s father, Bob Ewell, was also named after a Confederate General, Robert E. Lee, who also still has one or two equally prestigious things still commemorating his personal contribution to the slavery effort. And guess what?? The two Lees are 13th cousins 5 times removed.

Harper Lee’s description of Bob Ewell is highly detailed, and dripping with contempt, as is her classic account of the Ewell residence – trash is as trash does. The attentive reader will recall that when Calpurnia had explained the collateral damage of the Robinson case to Scout at the black church, Scout had recalled Atticus referring to the Ewells as “absolute trash”.
Quote:
Every town the size of Maycomb had families like the Ewells. No economic fluctuations changed their status—people like the Ewells lived as guests of the county in prosperity as well as in the depths of a depression. No truant officers could keep their numerous offspring in school; no public health officer could free them from congenital defects, various worms, and the diseases indigenous to filthy surroundings. Maycomb’s Ewells lived behind the town garbage dump in what was once a Negro cabin. The cabin’s plank walls were supplemented with sheets of corrugated iron, its roof shingled with tin cans hammered flat, so only its general shape suggested its original design: square, with four tiny rooms opening onto a shotgun hall, the cabin rested uneasily upon four irregular lumps of limestone. Its windows were merely open spaces in the walls, which in the summertime were covered with greasy strips of cheesecloth to keep out the varmints that feasted on Maycomb’s refuse. The varmints had a lean time of it, for the Ewells gave the dump a thorough gleaning every day, and the fruits of their industry (those that were not eaten) made the plot of ground around the cabin look like the playhouse of an insane child: what passed for a fence was bits of tree-limbs, broomsticks and tool shafts, all tipped with rusty hammer-heads, snaggle-toothed rake heads, shovels, axes and grubbing hoes, held on with pieces of barbed wire. Enclosed by this barricade was a dirty yard containing the remains of a Model-T Ford (on blocks), a discarded dentist’s chair, an ancient icebox, plus lesser items: old shoes, worn-out table radios, picture frames, and fruit jars, under which scrawny orange chickens pecked hopefully. One corner of the yard, though, bewildered Maycomb. Against the fence, in a line, were six chipped-enamel slop jars holding brilliant red geraniums, cared for as tenderly as if they belonged to Miss Maudie Atkinson, had Miss Maudie deigned to permit a geranium on her premises. People said they were Mayella Ewell’s.
The geraniums might be Mayella’s only redeeming feature, but it seems nothing will save Bob Ewell in Harper Lee’s caustic estimation:
Quote:
All the little man on the witness stand had that made him any better than his nearest neighbors was, that if scrubbed with lye soap in very hot water, his skin was white.

Here we see the toxic power of the caste system in its full disgrace. And of course, Ewell proceeds in vivid language to make the accusation from the stand, sending the room into uproar. Luckily Atticus cannot see the children, who despite having front row seats in the black bleachers are apparently too far away. Otherwise this saucy information might be deemed too adult for them to hear. Atticus extracts the confirmation, under a cross examination that Scout compares to Sherlock Holmes, that Ewell endorses the sheriff’s account of Mayella’s injuries, whereat his astute court-watching children infer that the bruising on her right is consistent with battery by her left-handed father.


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