Sunday, November 6, 2011

my interpretation of to kill a mockingbird

leave it to the english major to wait until his 50-somethingth article (It was 50-somethingth when I wrote it - Ed.) to actually talk about books. So this is one of the books I was semi-forced to read in school, and I really liked it. I thought it was a lovely story, and as the theme of the course I was taking was racism, I thought this was one of the better looks at it, on par with the likes of A Raisin in the Sun. One thing I couldn't get past, though, was everyone's interpretation of the Mockingbird metahpor. Where everyone from the teacher to the students to probably the author thought one way about it, I somehow perceived it differently, and unlike most times this happens, I'm still pretty convinced that I'm at least not a total idiot for disagreeing with the popular interpretation.

It goes like this: Scout and Jem, the two children (one narrates), get BB guns and one of them is halted from killing the titular bird. It is recommended that they shoot the blue jay because the blue jay is kind of a dick and eats other birds' eggs or something. This is the book's metaphor for it's racial subject matter. The act of killing a mockingbird is not permissible because it's an "innocent" species of bird. It symbolizes victimized innocence at that moment, and this is manifested with the primary victim of the story, a black man, is for all intents and purposes killed by racism. The point is that you should kill the blue jay, which stands for evil; kill prejudice and racism in general because those are the forces (people?) that deserve to die, not the innocent. I'm not sure how I feel about it and here's why: I think the "don't kill the mockingbird, kill the blue jay" is the metaphor for prejudice. That deciding it's okay to kill one bird and not another for seemingly no reason is the "racism".

Think about it this way: The two species of bird are a piece of nature, not government. Both species of bird do what nature programs them to do. It's not like the blue jay has chosen to be malevolent where the mockingbird hasn't. Let me get one thing out of the way, quick and dirty: I'm not saying racism is natural and permissible, and where my interpretation could be mistaken for that, it's the last thing I'm trying to say and is only apparent because of metaphorical proximity. It requires that you strike the initial interpretation of the metaphor before reading on. Do that now. My point is different and it is this: Both species of bird exist as they are, no control over it. Kind of like how human beings have no control over their skin color, and that's why I think it's a more fitting metaphor for racism when Jem is instructed to kill blue jays. A bird can not control it's species any more than a human being can choose to be born a specific race, height, or whatever. And despite this, there are still "rules" for which birds to kill and which birds not to kill, as though one is really more justifiable.

The permission for killing a jay is (as far as my half-ass research showed) based upon it's lack of capacity for singing beautifully, as well as it's hunger for eggs. Now, I put things like spiders and flies outside instead of killing them. I do, however, kill black widows and such so as to avoid letting anyone else get hurt by them. So sometimes, yes, there are rules that need to be put in place. If I let a widow go and anyone got hurt by the widow, it would be my fault. But we're only talking about a bird that eats other eggs. And yet here we are with the story, a young child is going to kill a mockingbird and the adult says "don't kill that bird. Kill that bird." Kind of like how the discrimination against black people throughout history is as equally arbitrary. That just makes more sense to me. It's the product of one group having a "BB gun" (let's say, sloppily, the means to discriminate on a national level), and another group (sloppily again, black people) on the receiving end of it for no good reason. Assigning the roles of malevolence to a blue jay and benevolence to a mockingbird, and then shooting the blue jay just doesn't "fit" quite as well to me. I dunno. Maybe it's about dicks. Didn't Freud say everything is dicks?

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