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YMMV / To Kill a Mockingbird

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  • Alternative Character Interpretation:
    • There are some subtle hints that Atticus Finch may have actually been a white supremacist. He notably admires Henry W. Grady, an advocate of the "New South" based on rejecting the traditions and economy of the antebellum South while maintaining the social inferiority of blacks. He also compares himself to "Cotton" Tom Heflin, a leading proponent of white supremacy in the South who believed that "God Almighty intended the negro to be the servant of the white man." There are also those (such as legal ethics expert Monroe Freedman) who take issue with his indifference towards Maycomb's pervasive racism, callousness towards the conditions of Blacks in the county, and his Knight in Sour Armor approach to defending Tom Robinson. This is explicit in Go Set a Watchman. The implication (in retrospect) was that he simply wasn't willing to condemn an innocent man to die in spite of it, which did not sit well with readers of Watchman.
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    • It is not uncommon to hear Dill's preference for hanging out with Jem interpreted as a childhood crush, and his Childhood Marriage Promise with Scout as his cover. Especially since Dill is said to be based on Harper Lee’s childhood friend Truman Capote, who was openly gay.
    • Theories abound about what exactly is wrong with Boo Radley. Is he mentally handicapped? Has he been traumatized by his treatment by the hands of his father and brother? Is he simply an eccentric with an asocial personality?
    • Aunt Alexandra is a prime target for this. There are many who take her attitude towards her brother and his children as a sign that she really doesn't like them one bit. The novel seems to suggest that she does truly care for them in her own way, but how convincingly it does so depends on the reader.
    • Did the men who wrongfully convicted Tom do so simply because he was black? Or did they also do it because they knew Bob Ewell was abusive to his daughter, passed it off as "someone else's problem" for years, and were so afraid of owning up their inaction that they were willing to throw an innocent man under the bus? Given the numerous men involved in the decision, it's not unlikely that it varied from person to person, or that both racism and bystander shame played a role in the decision for some.
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    • Is Nathan Radley simply following in his father's abusive and domineering footsteps in keeping Boo locked away, or is he genuinely trying to care for and protect his mentally-ill brother?
  • Author's Saving Throw: After the Broadway production came under fire for producer Scott Rudin suing and attempting to cancel community productions putting in the previously published play version of this story, in response, Rudin dropped these suits, and allowed the productions to use Aaron Sorkin's new version of the show, free of charge.
  • Awesome Music: Terrific masterpiece composed by Elmer Bernstein.
  • Award Snub: The critically acclaimed Broadway production was expectedly nominated for several Tonys, but was shockingly omitted from the Best Play lineup. Many have claimed the snub was due to the productions' controversies regarding a lawsuit from Harper Lee's estate over changes, and producer Scott Rudin taking legal action against community theaters that were performing or planning to perform the previous stage adaptation.
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  • Cant Unhear It: Gregory Peck as Atticus. Even Harper Lee, who based Atticus on her own father, claimed that Gregory Peck became her permanent mental image of Atticus.
  • Complete Monster: Robert E. Lee "Bob" Ewell personifies all that was wrong with Dixie in the 1930s. For starters, he's a terrible, neglectful father, to the point where the sheriff actually turns a blind eye to him hunting out of season out of pity for the little Ewells. He gets Tom Robinson, a disabled black man, arrested for supposedly raping and beating his daughter Mayella. Atticus Finch, the defense lawyer, shows that Tom was physically incapable of committing the crime, and that it was Bob who caught Mayella making advances on an unwilling Tom, and beat her himself, with it being implied at one point that Bob himself has been sexually abusing Mayella. Since the book takes place in the Deep South several decades before the Civil Rights movement, the all-white jury sentences Tom to death anyway. Even though Tom Robinson is dead, Bob tries to get revenge on those who opposed him at the trial, culminating in trying to kill Atticus' children on their way home from a school play.
  • Creepy Cute: Boo Ridley. He may be a pale shut-in who only goes out at night, but how can you not like his smile?
  • Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory: According to an apocryphal tale, Harper Lee was once giving a speech on the book at a high school where the students asked a lot of questions about its symbolism. Lee replied that there was none, and that she was merely a starving writer trying to make a buck. Nevertheless, the questions continued, and she got more and more irritated until finally, someone asked why so many characters were named after Confederate generals. She responded, "they were white trash. At the time, all white trash who lived in the South were named after Confederate generals." No more questions were asked; the audience was too busy thinking about whether their classmates were named after Confederate generals.
  • Fair for Its Day: Some reviewers have taken issue with Jem's comments that, for rape to occur, "you had to kick and holler, you had to be overpowered and stomped on, preferably knocked stone cold". However, Jem was simply stating, in layman's terms, what the law said about rape at the time of the book (and for a few decades afterward).
  • Iron Woobie: With the stuff he has to put up with, one could forgive Atticus for just giving up and leaving town. But he never lets all the bad things that happen break him. Even Tom Robinson's conviction, which almost totally shatters his belief in the justice system, doesn't break the man.
  • Jerkass Woobie: Mayella Ewell. While she's a very unpleasant young woman who has falsely accused an innocent man of assault, it's difficult not to pity her. She lost her mother at a young age, lives in poverty and squalor, struggles to raise her siblings with no help, has no friends, endures physical abuse from her father, and it's strongly implied that she endures sexual abuse from her father as well. She came on to Tom because she was lonely and he was the only person who had shown her kindness, and then was forced to falsely accuse Tom out of fear of her father. Also, being treated with respect was so alien to her that she was convinced that Atticus was mocking her when he spoke courteously to her in court.
    • Notably, the play says pretty explicitly that the moment Tom said he felt sorry for her, he had more or less signed his death sentence. A black man could not feel sorry for a white woman, no matter her circumstances.
  • Memetic Mutation:
    • Scout's iconic ham costume.
    • Scout believing that Mrs. Maudie is the one leaving the gifts in the tree.
    • Jem leaving his pants on the fence has caused quite a few memes on Tumblr.
    • An image of Atticus and Tom sitting in the court room has often been used online to criticize people who uncritically believe in allegations, especially of a sexual nature. An example.
  • Moral Event Horizon:
    • It's hard to tell when Bob crossed this, from beating and raping his own daughter and falsely accusing an innocent man of it, to trying to kill two kids. Bottom line, he crossed it at some point.
    • The men on the jury who condemn Tom to death also crossed it with that action, all of them except Mr. Cunningham, the only dissenting voice who was eventually pressured into line with the rest. None of them could have really believed Tom was guilty, no matter what they told themselves, yet they condemned a man who they knew was innocent to die just because he was black and because they refused to endorse the idea that a black man's word could ever be worth as much as a white man's. It was nothing less than state-sponsored, judicial murder, and they all get away with it, too.
  • Nightmare Fuel:
    • Bob Ewell trying to kill little children.
    • To Afro-Americans in that place and time, the framing and trial of Tom Robinson. Brock Peters' performance brings this starkly to light even to modern audiences who didn't live through that era.
  • One-Scene Wonder:
    • Boo Radley, as played by Robert Duvall, in his first film appearance ever. He is onscreen for just a moment, and doesn't utter a single word the entire time, but manages to say everything he needed to only using his eyes.
    • Dolphus Raymond in the book.
    • In the film, Mayella's actress does a great job with a downcast, halting performance that reveals the character's internal conflict.
  • Overshadowed by Controversy: The Broadway production notably ran into a lawsuit from the estate of Harper Lee and producer Scott Rudin later attempted legal action against community theaters attempting to put on productions of the previous stage adaptation. The Lee estate lawsuit was eventually settled, and after backlash, Rudin dropped his own suits and allowed these companies to use the new Aaron Sorkin script for free.
  • "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny: A Young Adult Coming-of-Age Story about a Tomboy growing up in a Quirky Town in the Deep South during the Depression, and her heroic dad who braves communal scorn to help the oppressed black man. Sounds like a Cliché Storm from The '90s, but was groundbreaking when first published in 1960.
  • Squick: The lines about how long ago Mayella's mother died, and how no one in town is quite sure how many Ewell children there are, could even be taken to imply that the youngest ones are hers.
  • Tough Act to Follow: Lee avoided this trope by never publishing another book, until 2015. She was often accused of not writing this one (especially since her "childhood friend" was a bestselling author in his own right). People who actually knew Truman Capote dismiss this tinfoil hatting by pointing out he would never have not taken credit for it, especially with how well-received it was - just about any list of "Greatest American Novels" will include it somewhere.
  • Values Dissonance:
    • Examined. The teacher Miss Caroline isn't impressed that Scout learned reading at a young age because it goes against the school system. Nowadays she would be skipped ahead a few grades, provided she was in a decent school district.
    • Tom Robinson implies that Mayella's father sexually abused her in less than a sentence — one left out of the film note , and it is never brought up again, even though Lee wrote the book in the 1960s. This is because it was considered scientific fact that parental incest was imaginary on the part of the child, up until about the '70s. Modern readers, especially high schoolers, are often shocked that this aspect wasn't given greater weight.
    • As Go Set a Watchman demonstrated to readers everywhere, Atticus' liberal, laissez-faire attitude towards Maycomb's racist society does not age well. The seeming "change" in his character was pretty much just him acting the same way he did in Mockingbird, just during the Civil Rights era.
    • At the time of the story, Negro was a polite way to address blacks, while Nigger was consistently treated as a negative term. Today, many don't see any distinction between those words.
    • Bob Ewell makes death threats against Atticus for the crime of making him look like a fool in court. Atticus brushes it off despite Scout correctly intuiting the man does not bluff, but these days the police would at least get involved for a restraining order.
  • Values Resonance:
    • Many of the book's messages and morals are resonant even in today's world. Discrimination against minorities in the US is still an ongoing debate, with the topic being given a larger degree of focus nowadays due to the rise of social media platforms.
    • While not a focal point of the story, this book does show how damaging false rape accusations really are, especially when targeted towards minorities. With the rise of social media, the legal issues of false rape cases have begun to be more of an issue, especially when trying to help those who actually did suffer from it.
    • Scout's negative reaction towards Miss Caroline is surprisingly relevant today. While one would like to think that this is an example of wrong-headed thinking long since put aside, in fact it is still sadly common for children in the American school system to be reprimanded or even punished for being more advanced than the system dictates. Any standardised system is going to let outliers down, and there will always be teachers who act according to the letter rather than the spirit of the education guidelines.
  • What an Idiot!: So much that it's lampshaded by Atticus and the sheriff. Bob Ewell while drunk on Halloween tries to murder Atticus's kids after he had got off scot-free for abusing and raping his daughter. Fortunately, he didn't succeed, owing to Scout's large ham costume providing impromptu armor and Arthur Radley saving their bacon. Even though it was dark, the kids survive the encounter and would have been able to testify. The sheriff has to ask And Then What? because while an all-white jury could convict a black man, they'd have to be complete idiots, in turn, to look the other way about a white man attempting to murder two children. Atticus is more relieved that the kids aren't (badly) hurt and shaken at the thought that Jem would have to testify since at first Atticus thinks that Jem killed Mr. Ewell in self-defense, but even he is going You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me! because Nobody's That Dumb. Well, Bob Ewell was.
  • What Do You Mean, It's Not for Kids?: The book is a funny case in that if you're a little kid, you probably won't get some of the more family-unfriendly lines, in a sort of twisted cousin of Parental Bonus. It's certainly one hell of a delayed realization, however, to understand the line, "She said she'd never kissed a man before, and she might as well kiss a nigger. She said what her pa do to her don't count."
    • They have this one in the UK (or did at least) as a book study for kids at school somewhere around 12-16. As a powerful book about rape, incest, bigotry, racism, slavery, and human rights, it's one of those books people like to try to get banned because it has the word 'nigger' in it.
    • The UK still has To Kill a Mockingbird as a book study in upper high school (GCS Es) so it's age 14-16.
    • It's also commonly assigned as required reading in the US for junior high/high school students (about 12-18.)
  • The Woobie:
    • Tom Robinson. He's a nice quiet family man who minded his own business, and occasionally helped Mayella. Nonetheless, Bob Ewell decides to get him killed. What makes Tom's fate even more tragic is that Atticus didn't screw up his case in the least. It's made very clear that Tom is innocent, yet he's voted guilty anyway.
    • Also, Tom's wife. She does her best to make ends meet for her children after her husband is framed and killed, only to be endlessly harassed by Bob Ewell and considered to be living in "sin and squalor" by the local white women.
    • Jem qualifies as well. As a kid going through puberty, he already has a lot of difficulties going on, and throughout the book his struggles keep piling up with seeing the reality and how horrifying it truly is and having him and his sister slowly grow apart. May be a Jerkass Woobie given how him growing apart from Scout is somewhat his own fault.


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