To Kill A Mocking Bird could be rewritten for 2016 with the use of actual cases of injustice.
To Kill A Mocking Bird can be argued to be an indictment of the judicial and cultural system of Jim Crow. Both parts of that racial social system only served to push and hold Blacks in the role of servant. At least that seemed to be the case when Atticus as a White lawyer, who was defending an innocent Black defendant Tom, helped highlight. In the book Atticus presented clear evidence to prove Tom innocent of a rape that had not even actually happened. Still Tom was convicted. Justice would almost have to be intentionally blind to allow that and for people who were expected to serve all sorts of injustices happened to them often.
If the novel To Kill A Mocking Bird was written today how different would its court scenes be? What might we find today after even when Atticus presented clear video evidence showing a crime from several angles, with timestamps, with it all supported by several witnesses with camera phones and the cop’s own dash cam showing him shooting an unarmed man (Tom) with his hands raised, even though Tom had not committed any crime? Yet despite all of that would the cop still not be indicted due to a lack of evidence or any other questionable reason such as a defense of feeling threatened? Would that not be what today’s version of To Kill A Mocking Bird might look like?
That rant aside, like today the novel just had so many layers of moral and social contradiction. There were Black cooks, Black women who literally raised White children while being treated as less than human themselves but while also being the engine that drove or allowed many of the domestic comforts for nearly everyone else’s humanity. All of that while most of those same domestic comforts that the Black woman provided were directly denied to her and her own family.
In chapter 16, Calpurnia, the family’s domestic “servant” was both a devalued and respected human wrapped into one in this single statement, “Anything fit to say at the table’s fit to say in front of Calpurnia. She knows what she means to this family.”
That was said in response to a casual conversation about “Braxton” who “despised Negroes.” It was offered so that his racist contempt for Blacks not be mentioned in front of Calpurnia despite the fact that they all were openly helping the social conditions that forced her into being in a position to have to serve this nice family. That itself was not despicable after all, “She knows what she means to this family.”
That and just about every racial interaction in the novel was based on a sub-human role that was normal for a society that considered itself just and moral, or was at least claiming to be. Those interactions also predicted in a sense what would happen at the trial to the innocent Tom. For there were two societies with two codes of justice and both were in a backward sense useful.
When Blacks were useful it was also because they knew that being useful was their place. A Black man being railroaded during a trial was also useful and was just another layer of a Black person knowing their place. That was a dangerous position to be in and even the hero minimized that position by referring to a mob activity, which usually resulted in a lynching, as a “blind spot” when the author wrote: “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.”’ Today Trump is “basically a good man” with “blind spots.”
Trump 1991: “Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.”
Then the conversation switched to the “Mennonites” who were another part of morality in the story, where marriage was spoken about, and where humanity was confirmed in a sea of inhumanity or in good men like Mr. Cunningham. Then there was “Miss Maudie’s command of Scripture” a scripture that too was arguably applied racially but was still strongly a basis for a good moral character.
Even outside the courthouse the social differences there were identical to the differences in the court house and most other houses, where there was a White viewing gallery and a Black one. While outside the courthouse and most other houses there was a Black sitting area and a White one. It was normal, it was not considered immoral to kill a certain mocking bird. Maybe that was also why just about anyone could learn so much about how each layer of society was treated differently then and today just by reading this book.
Today the judicial side of To Kill A Mocking Bird is Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Eric Gardner, Michael Brown…; the cultural side is Colin Rand Kaepernick, Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street…where the people for whom the crimes have been committed against are put on trial. The innocent must defend themselves while the guilty are aided by the prosecution. That mindset is most useful when it’s time To Kill A Mocking Bird or to keep useful people as nothing more than useful.
And Harper Lee got it right in “Mockingbird” too, as Jen explains prejudice to Scout:
The Finches look down on the Cunninghams.
The Cunninghams look down on the Ewells.
Ewells don’t have anybody to look down on but ppl tell them it’s okay to pick on black folk. Tom Robinson.