To Kill a Mockingbird Book to Movie Review – Harper Lee’s Inspiring and Powerful Work Dissected to Construct a Movie Lacking the Book’s Initial Charm

By Carson Amstutz

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2.5/5 Stars

 

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is a coming-of-age novel transformed into a movie by Robert Mulligan two years after its release, that is modeled after her experiences in Alabama during the Jim Crow Laws. Maycomb County, where To Kill a Mockingbird is set, is a microcosm of the Deep South in the 1930s. As a child who grew up in the Deep South of the United States, I have grown to identify with Scout, a character Harper Lee based of her own life. Although the movie is very popular, being nominated for 8 Academy Awards and winning 4, the coming-of-age story Harper Lee created in the book which drew a large audience from both teens and adults alike, is almost non-existent in the film, lacking many important characters that allow us to understand Scout’s journey through adolescence.

 

To Kill a Mockingbird is told through the perspective of Jean Louise Finch, or Scout (Mary Bradham), a young girl living in Alabama, in the 1930s, with her brother, Jem (Phillip Alford). Her father, Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck), is a lawyer who is given the strenuous task of defending Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), a black male charged with the rape of Mayella Ewell (Collin Wilcox), daughter of Bob Ewell (James Anderson). The story contains coming-of-age challenges that Scout and Jem face, Atticus’ hardship trying to fight and teach his kids to fight against gender and racial stereotypes, and the children’s interest in the mysterious Boo Radley (Robert Duvall).

 

The movie adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird is quite good, almost exceeding expectations for any casual viewer never to read the book. The movie has interesting dialogue, a strong plot structure, and a characters with deep and interesting personalities that make you love them. But for me, someone who read and thoroughly enjoyed the book ever before I watched the movie, it is a disappointment. This is caused by the movie leaving out many things from the book. Although I understand that had the movie included everything from the book,  it would have been 20 hours long, it left out important characters of the novel that truly showed us Jem and Scout’s coming-of-age journey in Alabama during the 1930s.

 

Dolphus Raymond is a character in the To Kill a Mockingbird book that marked a step, a challenge, and a trial in Scout’s coming-of-age adventure, that is left out of the To Kill a Mockingbird film. Dolphus Raymond is different from everyone else in Maycomb County:  a man with a black wife and mixed children. This interesting character in the book is not present in the movie. I believe that is something important enough to be included in the movie. We do not get the opportunity of seeing how in the 1930s. Being white and having a black spouse is so wrong that you have to take every precaution possible to give the citizens of Maycomb County a way to justify him having a black partner. He fakes being a drunk in order to protect his and his family image, and to prevent being shunned by the community. To quote Dolphus Raymond, “Some folks don’t like the way I live… I try to give ‘em a reason… It helps folks if they can latch onto a reason… if I weave a little and drink out of this sack, folks can say Dolphus Raymond’s in the clutches of whiskey – thats while he won’t change his ways… It ain’t honest, but it’s mighty helpful to folks.” This is something that is very important for the life of Scout, learning not to judge a book by its cover. Dolphus Raymond is a man that defies and breaks the laws of his setting, challenging the boundaries, but yet still held back by these same boundaries. Scout learns how powerful racial stereotypes are in Maycomb County, and although we still see a small portion of this in the courthouse scene, we do not see the true effect in the film.

 

Another character in the plot of the book that is nearly excluded from the movie is Mrs. Dubose (Ruth White). The only time that Mrs. Dubose is included in the film is the very beginning. Mrs. Dubose is an elderly lady, who always seems grumpy and mean through the eyes of Scout. We see a small glimpse into her character when Atticus, Jem, and Scout pass her house, but we do not see the full importance of her character that exists in the book. In the book, Jem takes his frustration out on Mrs. Dubose’s flowers, and is forced by his father to read to her everyday for over 30 days, even though the initial agreement was only 30 days. It is a teaching moment for Jem, a coming-of-age challenge that we lose. Jem learns to think before he acts, and Atticus uses the entire chapter to teach Jem to respect everyone, no matter what you feel about them. This is important because of the time period that Harper Lee chooses to base the book: the 1930s. Even though Mrs. Dubose is not black, Atticus shows his true character, someone that respects all, and who will teach this to the new generation. By excluding this scene from the book, we lose a painful lesson in Jem’s coming-of-age journey, and proof of Atticus’ good morals and ethics.

 

Aunt Alexandra showed up at the Finch home halfway through the book, with the mission of being the mother that Scout never had. Aunt Alexandra does not make an appearance in the movie, while being a main character in the second half of the book. Aunt Alexandra can be considered a foil character in the book, someone who highlights Atticus’ positive attributes and abilities. By not including Aunt Alexandra in the book, we lose the strife Atticus goes through being a single father and one of, if not the only white man to show any signs of respect towards blacks. Aunt Alexandra is a microcosm of the majority of people in the Deep South during the 1930s. She believes every girl should be ladylike. She wants Scout to be well dressed, not play with the boys, and most importantly, not fight. She believes in the gender norms of the time. In the book, she wants Atticus to get rid of Calpurnia, believing that she could do a better job watching over the children than Calpurnia could. This is another example of Aunt Alexandra fitting in to Maycomb County. To quote Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, “Aunt Alexandra fitted into the world of of Maycomb like a hand in a glove, but never into the world of Jem and me.” By leaving Aunt Alexandra out of the movie, we lose this interesting dynamic between Aunt Alexandra, representing the rest of the Finch family, and Atticus, Scout, and Jem. Atticus uses Aunt Alexandra to teach Scout better than he would have otherwise. Atticus is highlighted through Aunt Alexandra’s questionable teachings, and is something that is important in the book.
The book of To Kill a Mockingbird is a literary legend that perfectly portrays the coming-of-age of children living in the Jim Crow South, and shows us the struggle and the hardship of a white male who has strong morals and respects blacks. The movie lacks these same values, capturing only an aspect of the story that made To Kill a Mockingbird so popular and powerful.  As a film without a book attached to it, it is an excellent movie, but it lacks key characters and scenes that highlight the life of Scout in the novel, and that prevents the film from being as noteworthy as the book.

 

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Journal Entry #4 – Character’s Responses Influencing Our Choices

 

          A main theme in To Kill a Mockingbird is struggle, problems, and overcoming those problems. A main problem in To Kill a Mockingbird is of overcoming racism and stereotypes during the Tom Robinson case, and Scout’s problem of growing up during the Jim Crow laws, where racism is something taught to children. Many families are shown to have surrendered to this, believing that blacks were superior. But Atticus, even though frowned upon by his one family, has ignored these stereotypes, and taught Jem and Scout to do the same. We are also faced with the problem of gender roles and expectations in the book. Scout is a tomboy during a time when women were supposed to be lady-like, but Scout did not desire this. She was different. Another problem that is discussed in the book is a division between the high class and low class. Yet even with all of these problems, Atticus manages to remain respectful of all, and understands where people are coming from.

          Scout and Jem are raised in the Jim Crow laws. During this time, blacks were viewed as inferior. This is demonstrated in the Tom Robinson case. Firstly, a group of men attempted to lynch Tom Robinson, only to be stopped by Atticus. Later, in court, Atticus presents perfect evidence on why Tom Robinson was innocent, yet because of the time, he was determined to be guilty. This is one of the problems that Jem and Scout face growing up. Atticus’ is morals are perfect while dealing with this racism. He understands what was right and what was wrong, and he knows how to respect others. We should strive to take such an action when it comes to racism. Racism is becoming a large issue once again, and Atticus shows us the proper way to deal with racism. His ideals and way of showing those ideals is very good.

          Scout was a tomboy when the expectations of a lady is to not do boy stuff, not to play outside and get dirty; she was the opposite of what she was supposed to be. Aunt Alexandra is a leader in trying to make Scout more ladylike. But once again, Atticus is fighting back against another stereotype. He lets Scout play with Dill and Jem, and does not force her to stay inside with Aunt Alexandra.

          The class system has been a problem that has been around for a long time. It is something that is prominent in the text. There’s a social hierarchy in Maycomb County. It is something that is shown in the Cunningham’s life. They are forced to pay Atticus with goods, not money, because they do not have enough money to pay for his services. Atticus shows us how we should act when someone is not as wealthy as us. Atticus allows Walter Cunningham to pay him with the goods from Walter’s farm. 

Atticus is a someone with good ethics and morals. He does his job, ignoring racial and gender stereotypes and expectations, yet not being rude in explaining his thoughts or his morals. We should model our life after Atticus. To Kill a Mockingbird also shows us what not to be: someone who views there opinions as 100% right. Someone who does not use stereotypes and racism to break people down and view yourself as superior. And someone who respects others choices on what they believe is right.

 

To Kill A Mockingbird – Journal Entry #1

 

The book To Kill a Mockingbird  is a book that has been banned many times. Recently, it was banned in the Biloxi school district in Mississippi, United States. People believe that the book uses the N-word to many times. It also uses words such as colored, Negro, black, and colored. They are all put under the same category: a way to describe people of black skin in the deep south before the civil rights movement. But this is just a myth. All of these words mean different things, with different origins and meanings.

 

The words “black” and “colored” are often referred to as the same thing. A person of black skin. But this is not the truth. The word “colored” means someone who is not white, or a mix between European (white) and African (black) descent. The word black is a word to describe people of African descent. Both words were used in a derogatory manner. During the civil rights movement in the United States, the word “colored” was used to segregate whites from nearly everyone else. At the peak of discrimination during this time, colored referred to anyone who was not white. Jews, Latinos, and people of African descent were all considered part of this same group of” colored people.” As of right now, the word “colored” is a socially unacceptable word that reminds us of the time of discrimination.

 

The word nigger and the word nigga are commonly mistaken to mean the same thing, but they very much do not mean the same thing. The word nigger began in the Atlantic slave trade era of the 1800s. It was a derogatory way to describe blacks and their own slaves. It was most commonly used however in the South of the United States, before the Civil Rights Movement. It meant the same thing, except that the blacks were not slaves. It was a way to dehumanize the blacks, to describe how unimportant the blacks were in the country.  This is why, as shown in the book, when people describe Atticus as a quote, “nigger-lover,” is meant to be a disgusting way to describe someone who favors a less important group, trying to dehumanize both the group and the person defending the group. This is why many people refused to help these “niggers.”

 

The word nigga is used primarily in slang, a way blacks take back the word. It is also used by many rappers. The context of the word is the reason why blacks use the word, and why whites should never use the word. It comes from the word nigger. Blacks are taking back the word.

 

The word Negro used to be a very polite way to describe someone of black origin. At one point, up to the 1970s, blacks called themselves Negros. People of a mix between blacks and Native Americans were also called Negros. But in 1966, the black power movement looked into the history of the word. It used to represent the mentality of master to slave relationship between blacks and whites of the Atlantic slave trade. They officially decided to not use the word.

 

The word black is now the most respected way to call someone  of African descent. It has nearly always been this way. The word black was a way to keep them of less importance, but to humanize people. It is the most socially respected way to call some of African descent today.  This is similar to the word African-American. The word African-American is a way to describe of mixed between European and African.

 

This is why the book To Kill a Mockingbird uses these same words throughout the book. These words are used by Harper Lee in the book to describe the prejudice and the white supremacist feel in the South. Many of these words are used to dehumanize blacks, and they were most often used in the Jim Crow United States South. She uses the words to show the historical importance of the word, and also shows what kind of father Atticus was for her.

Maycomb County – What is it Based Off? Journal Entry #2

Image result for monroeville alabamaI have a family full of readers and writers. My mom, who is an English teacher, loves the book To Kill a Mockingbird. And I always wondered; “What is Maycomb County is based off? Is it a real place, or just a fictional location imagined in the head of Harper Lee?” Why did she choose to make it the way she did?  

 

Monroeville is the town that Maycomb County in To Kill a Mockingbird, is based off. It is the town that the author of the book, Harper Lee, grew up, and that the protagonist in the book, Scout, also grew up in. Monroeville, also like Maycomb County, is a small town in Alabama. It, as of right now, contains 7,000 people. It has around 3 thousand houses. It

 

The area where Monroeville is located has been around for centuries. The area was used as a town while the Spanish were there, before the town was sold. It is named after Secretary of State James Monroe, who was the man that finally negotiated the purchase of this area. The first time the English owned the area was in 1831.

 

The first settler to live in the area was Major Walker. The town was known as Walter’s Mill because of him. He first moved to Monroeville in the year 1831. The town slowly grew throughout the time before the Great Depression. The town’s airport was built in 1928 was used throughout World War 2. As of right now, Monroeville main jobs are in the manufacturing business, with 25% of the population working in manufacturing. Before manufacturing became very popular in Monroeville, it was a mainly agricultural town. Characters such as Walter, from the book, was a representation of how life was for farmers in the town. A tough life, not a lot of money to go around.

 

Harper Lee was born in Monroeville on April 28, 1926. She lived in Monroeville during the Great Depression, the same time period Scout lives in. Everything in Harper Lee’s book, To Kill a Mockingbird, is based off her experiences in the book. How there was no access to money, nothing to do. Character such as  Dill and Boo Radley were all based of real people. Dill was based on Truman Capote, a fellow writer and friend of Harper Lee. Boo Radley, or Arthur Radley, was based off a man named Son Boulware. Everything written in the book was affected by Monroeville effect on Harper Lee.

 

Overall, I can understand why Harper Lee wrote the book the way she did. She based it off her life experience in Monroeville. She based the characters from friends or people in Monroeville. And most importantly, she based her entire setting based on her life in Monroeville.

Jim Crow Laws During the Great Depression. Journal Entry #3

 

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The Great Depression was a terrible time in the history of the United States. It was time of economical despair. The Jim Crow laws was the worst civil rights violation that did not truly involve slavery. It lasted nearly 75 years, and during that period, these two occurrences ripped apart the deep South of the United States. The Jim Crow Laws and the Great Depression caused some terrible things. This theme is shown deeply in To Kill a Mockingbird, and in real life.

 

The Jim Crow Laws were a set of laws that allowed segregation between blacks and whites, with whites always getting the better end of the deal. These laws were only enacted in the South of the United States. They were used to take away privileges from blacks, such as voting privileges and better facilities for whites. It was first enacted in 1887, and was finally finished during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s. The facilities, in theory, were supposed to be equal, but that was not the case. Whites got considerably better facilities, and the blacks got much worse facilities.

 

The name Jim Crow came from a created character by Americans. He was a dumb, clumsy, and dimwitted black slave, used to enforce these laws.

 

The Jim Crow laws enforced the “American Way of Life:” liberty,, life, and pursuit of happiness. It was just for whites however. The Jim Crow Laws were similar to Hitler’s ‘Master Race.’ They believed that blacks were worse than whites, that they were dumber than whites.

 

The purpose was separation of blacks and whites. Facilities were supposed to be equal, but that never happened. White supremacy was prominent during the time. It was “fair,” but morally incorrect.

 

It was toughest on blacks who lived during the time. Harper Lee shows this beautifully in To Kill a Mockingbird. She shows us the struggle that is needed to survive as a black in the 1930s. Calpurnia, one of the more well-educated blacks in Maycomb County helped the Finches as a cook. It was impossible for any black to get better opportunities than a farm hand, cook, or maid. As shown in Calpurnia’s church, where they do not have enough money to by hymnals, and even if they did, only three or four of them could actually read. It was an overall struggle to live as a black in the Jim Crow Laws.