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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