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To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 1 - 6

#172: Nov. - Jan. 2021 (Fiction)
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Robert Tulip

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Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 1 - 6

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Chapter Two

The first thing I noticed in this chapter was that the narrator Scout almost seems to have no name, or gender, not having been properly introduced in Chapter One except in rather tangential conversations that I barely noticed. I found Scout’s name by looking it up on the internet, after skimming the first chapter and not finding it.

Chapter Two has Scout starting school.
Her teacher Miss Caroline printed her name on the blackboard and said, “This says I am Miss Caroline Fisher. I am from North Alabama, from Winston County.” The class murmured apprehensively, should she prove to harbor her share of the peculiarities indigenous to that region. (When Alabama seceded from the Union on January 11, 1861, Winston County seceded from Alabama, and every child in Maycomb County knew it.) North Alabama was full of Liquor Interests, Big Mules, steel companies, Republicans, professors, and other persons of no background.
This reads like satire. The idea that five year olds would have this detailed awareness of sectarian secessionist history seems absurd. And yet, it has a disturbing feel of authenticity. That such deliberate inculcation of prejudice could begin before school age, and be done so widely in the county, helps to set the scene for the theme of the cultural transmission of bigotry.

The whipping of Scout by this 21 year old interloper teacher who "looked and smelled like a peppermint drop" provides the theme of Chapter Two. First, Scout shows her difference from the flour-sack clad farmer’s children by being able to read and write, having been taught by her lawyer father Atticus and the family cook. The teacher scolds her for this, because it undermines her new teaching method, which seems amazingly stupid of her. The whipping by ruler is instigated when one of the poor children has no lunch and the teacher displays complete ignorance of the extent of poverty, and Scout explains this to her, leading to a class explosion. This humiliation of the new-fangled new teacher really tells us a lot about the social situation of Maycomb County Alabama.
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Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 1 - 6

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Chapter Three begins with Scout rubbing Walter Cunningham’s nose in the dirt, surprising thing for a girl to be able and eager to do to an older boy on the first day of school, in revenge for causing her whipping. Her brother Jem intervenes and invites poor Walter home for lunch, on account of his extreme impecunity, where he converses with Atticus in adult terms about farming and pours molasses on his meat, as much as he can eat.

Scout’s expression of astonishment at this appalling crudity produces a stern instruction from Calpurnia about manners, namely that Scout has no business criticising a guest. (I am reminded that the original Calpurnia was married to Julius Caesar). Social superiority is not to be flaunted. This life lesson is sealed by a stinging smack and Scout’s meal finishes in banishment in the kitchen, a humiliating punishment which produces manipulative wailing about suicide from the young spark, augmented by futile efforts to have her father sack the evil cook.

Next the innocent young teacher Miss Caroline is horrified by a child with lice, shrieking at this poor boy whose next meal is always a matter of mystery, as though she had seen a mouse. The boy, Burris Ewell, totally filthy, is inured to dispatching cooties with weary nonchalance. He is instructed to apply lye and kero, remedies which only inspire perplexity in this unwashable showcase for deplorability. The teacher’s incomprehension of this social misfit produces an explanation from the young class members of the acceptance of systematic truancy among poor families who are not capable of maintaining schooling. The teacher's resistance to how things is done in Maycomb escalates rapidly to a murder threat and abusive insults to the teacher’s face, completing a day that depresses Scout as fraught with drama, on top of the fatwa she was given against reading at home.

She is able to make up with Calpurnia and then tell her father about the day. In this beautiful relationship between father and daughter, Atticus instructs Scout to learn to see things from another person’s point of view, a piece of wise advice that many five year olds could benefit from immeasurably if they had such a switched on parent.

Sadly few of the deplorable delinquents of Maycomb County are likely to encounter such sagacity. The naïve child compares herself to the disgraceful Ewells, envious at their ability to evade compulsory school attendance. Atticus explains the bendy nature of informal governance, whereby the polite society of common folk can turn a blind eye to some antics of animalistic drunkard miscreants.

The ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ informality then extends to the agreement that Atticus will continue to read to his daughter on the condition she not inform her tyrannical instructress. The chapter ends with Jem completing a short career as a stylite.
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Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 1 - 6

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Robert Tulip wrote: The chapter ends with Jem completing a short career as a stylite.
Not the first time you've sent me to the Google dictionary! Same root as stylus, maybe?
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Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 1 - 6

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Robert Tulip wrote:Chapter Two

The first thing I noticed in this chapter was that the narrator Scout almost seems to have no name, or gender, not having been properly introduced in Chapter One except in rather tangential conversations that I barely noticed. I found Scout’s name by looking it up on the internet, after skimming the first chapter and not finding it.

Chapter Two has Scout starting school.
Her teacher Miss Caroline printed her name on the blackboard and said, “This says I am Miss Caroline Fisher. I am from North Alabama, from Winston County.” The class murmured apprehensively, should she prove to harbor her share of the peculiarities indigenous to that region. (When Alabama seceded from the Union on January 11, 1861, Winston County seceded from Alabama, and every child in Maycomb County knew it.) North Alabama was full of Liquor Interests, Big Mules, steel companies, Republicans, professors, and other persons of no background.
This reads like satire. The idea that five year olds would have this detailed awareness of sectarian secessionist history seems absurd. And yet, it has a disturbing feel of authenticity. That such deliberate inculcation of prejudice could begin before school age, and be done so widely in the county, helps to set the scene for the theme of the cultural transmission of bigotry.
It appears that Lee brings to the book the consciousness of the person Scout would become years later. Her narration thus has a certain worldly wisdom. This is unlike Huck Finn, who doesn't know anything beyond what his twelve years have taught him. I suppose the origin of this double consciousness is found in Go Set a Watchman, the earlier book (though not published until 5 years ago) in which Scout is in her 20s, returning to Maycomb Cnty from NY.

The distrust of the north Alabamans reminds us of the intense regionalism of the U.S. before local cultures were largely subsumed by a nationwide popular culture. People didn't travel far, had no reason or means to. The closeness of such communities can't be imagined today, when everyone has separate lives chosen from a full menu of mediated interests.
On the roads outside of my town are places that are no longer communities, designated by signs but no longer having post offices, stores, craftsmen, etc.--maybe only a church remaining as a relic of community. Differences real or imagined easily popped up between communities not in our current feeling isolated by much space.
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Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 1 - 6

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Robert Tulip wrote:The whipping of Scout by this 21 year old interloper teacher who "looked and smelled like a peppermint drop" provides the theme of Chapter Two.
Is this, perhaps, the origin of the amazing character Delores Umbridge, in the Harry Potter series? Or is the sadistic girlie-girl just a cultural archetype that emerges independently from time to time?
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Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 1 - 6

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DWill wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote: The chapter ends with Jem completing a short career as a stylite.
Not the first time you've sent me to the Google dictionary! Same root as stylus, maybe?
A stylite is a hermit who sits on a pillar, a moderately well known pastime in the ancient world.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stylite

A stylus is something I mainly associate with vinyl records. Apparently the connection with pillars is a mistake. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stylus#Etymology
Atticus kept us in fits that evening, gravely reading columns of print about a man
who sat on a flagpole for no discernible reason, which was reason enough for Jem
to spend the following Saturday aloft in the treehouse. Jem sat from after
breakfast until sunset and would have remained overnight had not Atticus severed
his supply lines. I had spent most of the day climbing up and down, running
errands for him, providing him with literature, nourishment and water, and was
carrying him blankets for the night when Atticus said if I paid no attention to him,
Jem would come down. Atticus was right.
Interesting how having such a parent exposes the children to ideas that would never have occurred to them.
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Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 1 - 6

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Chapter Four
A remarkable aside from Scout's complaints about the boredom of school is her incidental remark that "my father had served for years in the state legislature, elected each time
without opposition, innocent of the adjustments my teachers thought essential to
the development of Good Citizenship". Was Atticus really a lawmaker as well as a lawyer?

The weird finding of Wrigley’s Double Mint chewing gum in the Radley tree on the way home from school expands in mystery as the second wrapper contains old pennies with Indian heads dating from 1900. These naturally have their own Wikipedia page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_Head_cent

Surprisingly, the wiki entry fails to mention Jem’s assertion that these coins are “real strong magic, they make you have good luck. Not like fried chicken when you’re not lookin‘ for it, but things like long life ’n‘ good health, ’n‘ passin’ six-weeks tests…”

Summer holidays are celebrated with the arrival of Dill from Mississippi. An earlier chapter had explained that their friend Dill was “a pocket Merlin, whose head teemed with eccentric plans, strange longings, and quaint fancies.”

The imagination of inventing plays is an astounding thing for these rural kids, followed by smelling death and rolling in a tire. This is the sort of insane story for children who think they will live forever and have not yet experienced the caution bred by physical injury: “by pushing the tire down the sidewalk with all the force in his body. Ground, sky and houses melted into a mad palette, my ears throbbed, I was suffocating. I could not put out my hands to stop, they were wedged between my chest and knees. I could only hope that Jem would outrun the tire and me, or that I would be stopped by a bump in the sidewalk. I heard him behind me, chasing and shouting. The tire bumped on gravel, skeetered across the road, crashed into a barrier and popped me like a cork onto pavement. Dizzy and nauseated, I lay on the cement and shook my head still, pounded my ears to silence, and heard Jem’s voice: “Scout, get away from there, come on!”

The imaginative fun pauses for mid morning lemonade, then culminates with the game of Boo Radley, who for all they know is stuffed up a chimney: “As the summer progressed, so did our game. We polished and perfected it, added dialogue and plot until we had manufactured a small play upon which we rang changes every day.” The game must be kept secret, which becomes a problem when Atticus takes an interest.
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Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 1 - 6

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Robert Tulip wrote:A stylite is a hermit who sits on a pillar, a moderately well known pastime in the ancient world.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stylite
Robin Lane Fox had quite a bit of discussion about the Stylites in "Pagans and Christians". Apparently because a large amount of research in the 70s and 80s had tapped into sources concerning Syrian and other Middle Eastern Christianity, much of it unknown in the West before that period. Then I saw some later material speculating that the Muslim minaret, with the imam calling the community to prayer, might have been inspired by the celebrity of the Stylites of Syria.
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Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 1 - 6

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Chapter 5 continues and perhaps even intensifies the light-hearted sardonic humour that makes me constantly smile.

Scout is largely excluded from the boy’s games, and takes refuge with her friend, the old widow Miss Maudie Atkinson. Now that reminds me: if she was a widow then why does she get called Miss?? I assume some of the southerners here have heard of scuppernongs. I had not.

Calling out the heavy infantry is obviously needed to deal with garden weeds, which must be poisoned as a pestilential evil. The long peaceful summer twilights on Miss Maudie’s porch, watching the pink sky turn as flights of martins sweep by, provides opportunity to find out about local history. It seems Maudie was a spinster, not a widow, since she received constant marriage requests from Scout's uncle.

The weirdly sad and invisible Radley family is Scout’s main interest. The sectarian divisions of the Baptist Church arose over doctrinal dispute about the total opposition to pleasure. For example, some backsliders did not accept the Biblical belief that gardening is a mortal sin that will condemn not only the gardener but their flowers to eternal torment in hell. These are the kind of men who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one. These points of theology seem to have led the Radleys to regard sunlight with the same dread as felt by a vampire.

Next comes the terrifying prospect of joining Jem and Dill in giving a note to Boo Radley, via fishing pole through the shutters, offering to buy him an icecream. The effort initially fails, on account of the bamboo pole lacking several inches of being long enough, and then Atticus turns up. Busted.
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Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 1 - 6

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Going back to Chap. 4 for a moment, I wonder about the remark of Calpurnia's that Scout reports. She says that Calpurnia considers Jem's talk about ghosts and spirits to be "nigger talk." Sometimes I wonder about how teachers present this book in classes. It's very popular still, I believe, in middle schools and grades 9 and 10. I wonder about the experience of the two or three black kids in an otherwise white classroom. Do they welcome discussing the book, or might they feel singled out and uncomfortable? I don't know. As for Calpurnia's remark, assuming that Lee is reflecting how some black people actually talked in Lee's day, what could be said to explain a black woman's use of the term for her people so pejorative today? Is Calpurnia herself prejudiced? I wonder whether young students have the perspective to be able to understand the social structure that existed in the segregated South, in which a woman like Calpurnia, restricted herself in what she could hope to become, nevertheless might grab ahold of whatever self-esteem she could, look down on others of her color, and perhaps not even consider them to be like herself. I'm imagining a world in which Calpurnia isn't even conscious of prejudice against black people; she might have once wondered about the reasons for white supremacy, but she would have come to accept that as the way the world is. Maybe?
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