General Question

rockfan's avatar

Do you think it's unusual for a middle aged person living in the U.S not to know the story of To Kill a Mockingbird?

Asked by rockfan (13085points) July 17th, 2015

And not knowing the book is about racism? What would you assume about the person? Or does it not matter?

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30 Answers

JLeslie's avatar

I just watched the movie again recently. I taped it so my husband could see it. He hadn’t heard of it, so obviously he didn’t know the story. He was raised outside of the US through 8th grade, then 2 years of high school here, then returned back to his country, so it isn’t odd he never had heard of it.

I only had read it and seen the movie previously, because it was taught in a class of mine. I am surprised there might be Americans who have never heard of it, but I don’t think anything negative about them. I never read A Wrinkle In Time, but half my school did. I just a didn’t have the teacher who chose to teach that book.

I don’t like to read books much, so I’m not likely to read it on my own, especially when I was younger. I didn’t have the teacher who assigned The Catcher in the Rye, but I wound up reading, because my boyfriend was assigned it. That’s a great book. Much more enjoyable to me than To Kill a Mockingbird, and much more relatable for me when I was a teen. The racist stuff was lost on me as a child. I couldn’t relate to it much at all. I couldn’t wrap my head around being mean to someone based on race, and it seemed like something from history that didn’t apply to my life.

Huck Finn was kind of lost on me also, and I didn’t make through the movie Gone With The Wind until my 40’s.

DoNotKnow's avatar

I am 43, live in the U.S., never read it, and have no idea what it’s about.

canidmajor's avatar

I would simply assume that the person was not familiar with the book.
Because To Kill A Mockingbird is not the only resource about how racism affects the US justice system, I would assume they knew about racism.
It’s literature. Thought provoking, discussion inspiring, yes, and important as a work of fiction, but certainly not something on which to judge another person, whether or not they’ve read it.

Recommend it, then leave it alone.

elbanditoroso's avatar

It really depends on where you went to junior high / high school.

Where I went, it was a class reading in (I think) 10th grade. So everyone in my school would be familiar with it.

BUT – I grew up in the Northern US, in a fairly highly educated and wealthy suburb, with a decided liberal population. So we read all sorts of stuff – Animal Farm, 1984, Brave New World, stuff by Vonnegut – all in the curriculum.

I would imagine that in some areas of the US (particularly the south and southeast) the reading curriculum was, shall we say, less progressive and less controversial. So To Kill a Mockingbird, with its racial themes, probably was not read.

The number of people who read thought-provoking books after high school (or college) drops significantly.

JLeslie's avatar

@elbanditoroso I wonder if it was taught in schools in the deep south back 30–40 years ago? I read it while living in MD, the suburbs of DC.

ucme's avatar

I wouldn’t assume anything.
It doesn’t matter.
Same as if an englishman knows jack shit about Robin Hood.

keobooks's avatar

I know the general story, but I never read it. I should, being a school librarian and all. But I don’t even feel guilty.

JLeslie's avatar

I wanted to add I find the book and movie rather boring and too long. It moves too slowly, even to the point I wanted the actors to speak faster. My husband kept asking, “when are they going to start the trial?”

Pachy's avatar

I’m past middle age and embarrassed to say that I never read it. But having grown up in a small Texas city with parents who were both highly liberal and socially conscious and movie addicts, I saw and was moved a bushel and a Peck by the film version in my teens and have seen it a number of times since, somewhat revising through the years some of my initial impressions of its themes and quality. Now that the Ms. Lee’s new book is out, I plan to read it and Mockingbird.

keobooks's avatar

I must say, I’ve met adults in their 40s who didn’t know who Richard Nixon was. I met one woman who didn’t know anything about Hitler beyond his funny mustache. Nothing surprises me when it comes to people not knowing stuff.

JLeslie's avatar

To Kill a Mockingbird involves a woman falsely accusing a black man of rape. I don’t think that’s a very popular theme in today’s climate, whether it having been written a very long time ago or not. We care a lot about rape victims being taken seriously and putting out there that woman will lie about it doesn’t really help women. I can think of a lot of other books about racism that I prefer.

@keobooks LOL.

chyna's avatar

57 raised in the US and have no idea what it is about

stanleybmanly's avatar

I guarantee that it’s an occurrence more common than most of us believe. In spite of the enormous popularity of both the film and the book, a lifetime of experience has taught me that you rarely lose a bet through overestimating levels of ignorance in the American public.

DoNotKnow's avatar

@stanleybmanly: “you rarely lose a bet through overestimating levels of ignorance in the American public.”

Are we discussing whether or not people have read a piece of fiction or not? I’m confused about your connection between consumption of a fictional story and the concept of ignorance.

stanleybmanly's avatar

I mean knowledge of the story and any familiarity with its subject matter. I’m not talking about the necessarily restricted group of those who either saw the film or read the book. What I’m saying is that if you were go to a busy intersection in your town and survey passers by on their basic knowledge of the story, you would have worse results than you would probably predict beforehand; and if you restrict your questions to what you perceive to be middle aged respondents (as specified in the question) my bet still holds.

Coloma's avatar

M aged at 55 here and I never read the book but yes, remember the old B&W Gregory Peck film well. Watched it when I was a pretty young kid, maybe around 8 or 9.
Mostly because my mother was watching it at the time. haha

stanleybmanly's avatar

Then there is the large percentage of middle aged people who’ve immigrated here since the heyday of the story. Out here that would severely skew the results.

Pandora's avatar

Nope and sometimes you just don’t remember the title. My sister asked me about it recently and I forgot about it. Then she reminded me of the name Atticus and I remembered the story.

I thought it was more than just racism. I think it was about seeking the truth and fighting those that would suppress it. I never felt he was totally invested in Tom but rather the law. He didn’t like that anyone could twist the law and that if the law isn’t fair for one man, than it can never be fair for all. Rich and politically positioned people will never suffer the true consequences of their illegal actions and poor and minorities, or even middle class will rarely be judged fairly.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

@JLeslie It wasn’t just white masters crawling in the sack with their black slaves. There is good documentation that this happened quite a bit with white women, as well. White women having sexual relations with black men in the Antebellum South and well into Jim Crow wasn’t talked about, but people knew. The feeling among white men was that no sane white woman would ever bed down with a black man voluntarily, so it had to be rape as there was no other acceptable explanation. But many white women knew differently. A white woman accusing a black man of rape was a way to save herself when the lovers were caught or merely suspected. It was the cause of many lynchings, not just in the South.

Just in the past few years there has been some academic works on this subject, which has previously been swept under the rug of history for, among other things, the problem you mention above.

This is an interesting read on the subject.

About 100 miles north of you on Hwy 19, you come to a yellow blinking light in the middle of nowhere. This is where Hwy 19 intersects with state road 24. I think there is still an old, abandoned gas station there on the northwest corner. The place is called Otter Creek on the map, but there is nothing there, really. Turn left, or West on 24, toward Cedar Key and about 15 miles down this two-lane blacktop, if you look real hard, you’ll see a small plaque in the palmettos on the left side of the road. The plaque marks the place where the small turpentine mill town of Rosewood once stood. The population, except for a few of the mill’s management personnel, was black.

This is the site of the 1923 Rosewood Massacre. A woman named Fanny Taylor, the wife of a white overseer at the mill, falsely accused a black employee of rape and for the next week or so whites came in from all over the state and even by rail from as far as Georgia and Alabama with brand new rifles still in their boxes for the kill. There were lynchings, mutilations (there used to be a state congressman who frequented the barber shop at Cedar Key up into the 1960’s who’d gladly show you his watch fob made from one of the victim’s ears), and burnings. The town and the mill was razed to the ground never to recover, the black residents scattered to the winds. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that some finally found the courage to talk to the media about what had happened to their town.

Voluntary sexual relations between white women and black men weren’t exactly common, but it did happen and the woman had only one way to save herself and she often took it at the expense of the life of the black man. This is not a popular subject and the fact that Ms. Lee chose to write a book which addressed this subject is a testament to either her bravery or her naivete in the late 1950’s when she wrote the book. She took a beating for it, that’s for sure. And now, today, this subject is taboo still, for completely different reasons.

JLeslie's avatar

I wasn’t commenting on white women sleeping with black men during that time. I only was saying that stories about women lying about rape aren’t really what a lot women want out there right now. That’s the way I perceive the current state of affairs anyway.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

@JLeslie Yes, I agree with you.

Adagio's avatar

Aged 55, raised in NZ, have watched the film twice, as an adult, thought it was outstandingly good. Also I have had the book on my bookshelf for over 30 years but strangely have never read it.

johnpowell's avatar

I know of it but have never read it and have no clue what it is about. And I would like to think of myself as well-read.

Unbroken's avatar

I have read it. I know people who identify strongly with the book. It was vaguely autobiographical. Harper Lee said she would never write another. At 92 she has released an edited version of her original book that was more autobiographical in nature but her editors at the time said the stuff from her childhood would be more attractive to reader’s. There are rumors that her caregivers influenced her to release the new book.

This is all tangential but worth knowing.

Judi's avatar

I’m 54, saw the movie years ago but never read the book. I did just order it and the new one on Amazon though. From all the talk I am hearing Attucus sounds like my father who died when I was 10.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Nah, I don’t find it unusual. It’s surprising that To Kill a Mockingbird would be required reading for any public school, unless it was a Teacher’s Choice scenario.

JLeslie's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer It has been and is required reading in some schools. There has been controversary over the years in various school districts by parents who object to the book being taught.

stanleybmanly's avatar

I’m old enough to remember when the Southern part of the country took extraordinary measures to restrict any sort of media portraying sympathetic views of black folks and particularly things involving the plight of black people in the South. Books, films, network television programs were censored or just plain “unavailable”.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@JLeslie Yeah, I’m aware that is has been and is required reading, as well as the controversies. I should have been more clear; I’m surprised that TKAM is chosen as required reading by public school systems.

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