The Mourning of Atticus Finch

My favorite quote in the whole world came from one of my friends in high school.  He looked at me one day and said, “I like books.  They also make great helmets.”  I naturally thought this was just a funny joke for being so ridiculous.  However as time has gone on, I’ve begun to analyze this little statement and have come to the conclusion that books do not only make great helmets but the very best of helmets and I’ll tell you why.

All the knowledge and experience contained in all the stories of all the books ever written have helped mankind get closer to understanding what it exactly means to be human.  Mr. Machiavelli says that men often tread the path most common and so we imitate those whom we admire.  Stories are who we are, who we once were, and what we can hope to be.  They show us how we can change.  With knowledge can one be better equipped to face the challenges of nature and make better educated choices.  From the stories of famous heroes and the downfalls of others can we make a choice of what we inherently believe to be right and wrong.  You don’t have to agree with a story to learn from it.  With the lessons learned from books can every man defend himself honorably, see the world justly, and know his personal identity.

So where am I going with this?  I’m sure lots of people have heard of books being banned in schools, libraries, and states across the country for content that is disagreeable or going against morality.  One of the largest forefronts of this is the Christian Coalition who say that books that have sex, vulgarity, violence, and other profane subjects should not be exposed to America’s children.  Don’t get me wrong, I would NOT give a 7 year-old Lady Chatterley’s Lover.  That would be stupid.  However, you shouldn’t get rid of it as a whole because of the fear that your child might get a hold of it.  However, required school readings set many conservative parents and individuals into a frenzy.  Any story that has any one of the few “immoral” attributes I’ve already listed above is come under scrutiny and have been taken off the the reading curriculum and even the school libraries.  Of the many books already banned from schools, some of them are:

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Where’s Waldo? by Martin Handford (yes, this has been a banned book!)

1984 by George Orwell

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling

Howl by Allen Ginsberg

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Now while I could argue the case for all of these books, I feel the need to defend Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.  I first read this novel in my AP English class and besides Steinbeck, it was the best thing I read that year.  The book has been recently banned in Louisiana school districts because of it’s racist content and the fear that it might spread “white supremacy”.  Yes, it contains racist content but it’s a look into history.  This was before the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s so the treatment of African Americans are going to be pretty sketchy.  Have these people not looked in a history book recently?  The commonness of racism is enough to make you sick, portraying it as some sort of disease.  It should not inspire feelings of white supremacy.  If it does, the professor has probably done a terrible job teaching the book in the first place.  But like any book, there are multiple themes going on.  Racism is the main theme but there are also motifs on class structure, gender, hypocrisy, the call for respect, and deindividuation (it’s a word! look it up!).  I’m just amazed and aghast that the people that have had read To Kill a Mockingbird object against it because of it’s racial overtones.   Were they not aware of Atticus Finch?  He is openly opposed to racism in the book!  He’s the one character that everyone likes because of his strong sense of morals!  He constantly tells his children and others:

  • “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.” (Ch. 3)
  • “You can’t go around making caricatures of the neighbors.” (ch.8)
  • “When a child asks you something, answer him for goodness’ sake.  But don’t make a production of it.  Children are children, but they can spot an evasion quicker than adults, and evasion simply muddles them.  […]  Bad language is a stage all children go through, and it dies with them when they learn they’re not attracting attention with it.  Hotheadedness isn’t.” (ch.9)
  • “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand.  It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.” (Ch. 11)

These are just a few examples, but there is no denying that this story is relevant to the way we can grow as people.  It’s not as if racism has escaped our times as well either.  We still have to deal with that.  To ban books like this is not only setting us back to prejudice and ignorance, but is a strict limitation on our first amendment rights of free speech.  Every author that writes a story is putting a little bit of themselves in the dialogue or the actions or the overall ideas portrayed.  To ban a book is to kill that universe of ideas that let the reader learn a little bit more about themselves.  With banning books, we are silencing Atticus from telling us to respect one another, killing Piggy before he even has a chance to be the voice of reason, and making sure Harry Potter never survives as “the boy who lived” to inspire our sense of worth to the world.

I guess I’ve talked a lot about this, but I just can’t help it.  Books mean a lot to me.  And so I conclude affirming the statement that I put forward at the beginning:

“I like books.  They also make great helmets”

                             –Nicholas “Nicholock Holmes” Beall