(Today’s Guest Blog written by Chet Bush)
What I love about To Kill A Mockingbird is parabled in the great mad-dog showdown. When a sick dog sidles down the street threatening the neighborhood with its crazy twitch and stagger, there is only one sharp-shooter fit to drop the animal: Atticus Finch. This scene captures the essence of what makes this novel great for me.
This episode unveils a significant value for us, one Harper Lee thematically weaves through the greater storyline of the novel. That day Scout and Jem discovered there was more to their father than met the eye. They thought they had him figured out, sure of his strengths and accepting of his weaknesses. They knew he was a kind father and one to be respected. It never occurred to them, however, that he should be respected as a man.
When the Sheriff deferred to their father to take out the dog with one critical shot, the children had their doubts. “One-Shot Finch” finished the job and a new world was opened to them. They began to discover not only that Atticus was a more complex character than they’d had him pegged, but all around them others, too, were deeply complicated individuals. One-dimensional characters just don’t exist in this story. We keep discovering with Scout, There is more to this person than I know.
A character is often redeemed through the learning of his or her story. We discover the bitter, old woman down the street has persevered great pain and sorrow. When she dies she is remembered more as a brave soul than a quitter.
But sometimes persons are to be pitied for their seeming duplicity; like when an angry mob comes to the jail to lay hands on the yet-to-be-tried defendant, Tom Robinson. Scout points out one man within the mob, names him and his family and asks what he’s up to. He is quickly shamed, the very darkness in which he sought disguise now illuminating the nature of his bigoted heart.
And then there are some details that never quite explain the depth of an individual’s unique personality. Harper Lee just tells us that’s the way it happened and we are left to assume it’s an accurate witness. Atticus performed such a moment for us, too. For after he dropped the dog he inspected the “brown and white heap”, then walked back to where his glasses had slipped from his head and cracked in the road. He picked up the rim of his glasses then “ground the broken lenses to powder under his heel”… now, that’s a man.
I don’t know why he did it, but this single act invited me square in the middle of that road. My mouth drops open just a little, and with Jem and Scout I’m left to ask of someone I thought I knew, “Just who is this guy anyway?”