Uncle Tom melodrama with a modern point of view: Harper Lee's to Kill a Mockingbird

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Abstract

Because of Harper Lee's carefully controlled narrative strategy, young readers feel a great sense of pleasure and accomplishment when reading To Kill a Mockingbird. My recent interview project involving sixty-eight readers of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird reveals that teens speak of being able to laugh at Scout's childishness and at their own past selves through her, yet they enjoy the feelings of suspense generated by her unusual combination of objectivity and local color. They proudly speak of how they have to figure out matters for themselves, "feeling through Scout," as one fifteen-year-old African American reader describes it. The scenes of the lynch mob, Cal-purnia's church, and the trial are universally acknowledged by readers as scenes in which Scout does not understand the sig-nificance of events, and thus "through her not understanding, it kind of helps you understand" (fifteen-year-old Lisa), because "you have to figure things out for yourself." Lisa compares Scout's style to someone who might be able to describe an apple without knowing the word for it, thus using "an outsider's perspective" on its shape, color, and texture, "whereas an insider would look at it just like an apple." Why is To Kill a Mockingbird so accessible, and why do young readers feel such a sense of mastery when they "fig-ure out" the trial and relate its theme of exclusion to the presumed otherness of Boo Radley? The answer is the novel's unique blend of two literary traditions: popular melodrama, which defines the trial, and sophisticated modern narration, which controls the reader's experience before and after the trial.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationTelling Children's Stories
Subtitle of host publicationNarrative Theory and Children's Literature
PublisherUniversity of Nebraska Press
Pages165-186
Number of pages22
ISBN (Print)9780803215689
StatePublished - 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

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