Do you have a Big Read program in your town?
The Big Read is focused on restoring reading to American culture. It's funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, in partnership with other national and regional associations. Each community chooses a book to read, and various organizations in the city host different activities (thanks, Dory, for writing the grant.)
There are 267 communities involved in Big Read programs this year. I got the Museum involved last year (our book, The Grapes of Wrath) and decided this year to sit on the planning committee. We chose To Kill a Mockingbird, partly because the public schools wanted their high school juniors to read the book.
Last Thursday, there was a Panel Discussion at the Museum. We had a great time; three of us spoke on different aspects of the book. I talked about how both Individual and Group Experiences affected the characters in the book.
Part I of the book deals with personal, or individual experiences, mainly with the children. When I first read this book in high school, Scout held all my attention. Maybe because she was a girl, or because she's the narrator of the story. This time, the character who attracted my attention was Jem, Scout's big brother. At age 10, he tries to teach his little sister how to act in school and grows to understand Boo Radley, the mysterious man who lives in their neighborhood. He tells Scout not to antagonize their Aunt Alexandra, and be more like a girl. Jem is also a devoted son. He's the one who follows his father (Atticus Finch), into town, with little sister and summer friend (Dill) in tow. Jem disobeys his father, and refuses to go home when the lynch mob shows up at the jailhouse. This was a "coming of age" experience for him. Scout, on the otherhand, stays her innocent self, recognizing one of the men in the mob, and unknowingly, shames him into leaving Atticus alone.
In the second part of the book, the children experience events outside the Finches neighborhood. They see how the town reacts to the rape trial, where Atticus is defending a Black man convicted of molesting a white woman. And we're introduced to the molested woman and her family. The children watch the trial from the balcony of the courtroom, with the rest of the African American community. In the end, the verdict passed down is a guilty one, even though everyone knows Tom is innocent.
The two other presenters at the Panel Discussion spoke about other major themes in the book, and the author's writing style. Although we didn't have a lot of people attending (it WAS at 10 o'clock in the morning), we had a good discussion, and everyone enjoyed themselves. For anyone who hasn't read To Kill a Mockingbird in a long time, it's worth a second look.