Monday, August 10, 2009

To Kill A Mockingbird

It occurred to me this evening as I was watching Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird that the first time I ever heard of the book was in the fourth grade. Our teacher was a tall and volatile English lady, prone to violent tempers at the slightest provocation. I am surprised now that we stood for it, that we took her abuse without ever complaining to anyone. But I suppose we were just children and we reacted like most kids would to an abusive adult; we cowered around and tried not to incite her. Miss Williams would walk around the classroom monitoring our work, hands behind her back, sometimes nodding her approval, sometimes making a snide remark. It occurs to me now that she may have been ill, that this was a form of mental illness expressing itself. Why her colleagues didn't do anything about it, why no one brought it to attention, I don't know. I was a child a long time ago and I guess back then these things were still a stigma. People talked about depression in hushed tones. Going to a psychiatrist was unheard of. People like Miss Williams suffered in silence, occasionally dragging us along with her.

It seems almost ironic now that this lady would keep by her desk a copy of Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird. Every time we went up to her to have our work checked, I would look at its orange cover, trying to pry meaning out of the words. I didn't know what a mockingbird was or why anyone was trying to kill one. I almost never saw her pick up and read the book. But it lay there all year, its simple tale of childhood innocence, of strength and moral courage, locked inside the pages. I wonder what sustenance she derived from it. How much of her life did she find reflected in the narrative. Whose skin did she wear? And where did we, the children she taught and bullied and screamed at, figure in that association. It's easy now to see her as a kind of Mrs Henry Lafayette Dubose, the old lady hurling obscenities at the children while battling her own private demons. Did she know what she was doing? Did she feel any remorse? At the time, I both hated and feared her. As an adult, though, I find it intriguing that she would keep that book by her side. Maybe it restored a sense of balance within her that was otherwise difficult to obtain. Maybe she wasn't Mrs Dubose. Maybe she was Boo Radley.

I remember at the end of the school year she bought gifts for all the kids in her class.


Blogger granola said...

thank you for this introspective post, dr. kk. "to kill a mockingbird" is an exquisite book -- years later, the words, "hey boo", still hits me in the guts like no two words have.

& miss williams is an all-too familiar prototype in both past & present schooling. but i wouldn't chalk up meanness to depression, for:

"What appears bad manners, an ill temper or cynicism
is always a sign of things no ears have heard,
no eyes have seen.
You do not know what wars are going on down there
where the spirit meets the bone."

... so, you may be right about her wearing someone's skin. perhaps, she was the beautiful, reclusive boo? perhaps, a mockingbird? i wonder what kind of childhood miss williams had. i wonder what she thought of boo.
and i am really sorry that both you and miss williams missed out on the opportunity to share (among other things) this wonderful book in class together.

if you saw miss williams down the street now, dr. kk, what would you do/ say?

in the end, scout recounts those gifts and walks boo home.

10:39 PM  
Blogger Ink Spill said...

Beautiful post. Am a fan of your from-the-heart writig.

P.S. Why did you delete the story? It was superb!

11:27 PM  
Blogger karrvakarela said...

granola: thank you for reminding us of the poem! these things are often very deceptive. and yet, you don't want to be caught in a position where you are continually vulnerable to someone's fluctuating moods.

inkspillx: thank you. i'm glad you enjoy reading here!

6:45 PM  
Blogger mystic-soul said...

excellent post...

4:27 PM  
Blogger cheesoo said...


nice to see you blogging still.. hope sab khair


8:42 PM  
Blogger karrvakarela said...

mystic-soul: thank you.

anny: Alhumdulillah, things are good. hope everything's well with you.

8:33 PM  
Blogger shakuni said...

nice writing! someone has already used the phrase "introspective post", which i think is apt.

11:26 PM  
Blogger karrvakarela said...

shakuni: thank you! glad you enjoyed reading it.

6:44 AM  

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