We picked up where we left off last week with a discussion of the many different symbols found within To Kill a Mockingbird. Students have been working on an essay regarding the most obvious symbol of the mockingbird, but there are several others that are less obvious.
After understanding these additional symbols, students were challenged to write the opening paragraph to their own sequel to TKAM! It wasn't necessary to know the entire plot of their sequel, and as a prompt, they were to weave in one of the symbols from the novel that we had just discussed. This opening paragraph was to be short--between three and five sentences, and could pick up at any time in the future--one day after the end of the novel or ten or twenty years after--it was up to students to decide!
After only five or six minutes, students came up with some WONDERFUL sequels! If anyone would be willing to continue his/her story over the summer, I would love to read it. In July we can read the "real" sequel together and see if there are any similarities. I would love it if someone would take me up on my challenge! :)
Analysis Chapters 25-31
We finished our discussion of the novel by talking about how the different characters were affected by the outcome of Tom Robinson's trial. We reviewed the end of the novel and the events that took place which finally revealed Boo Radley to Scout! In the end, Scout can finally walk in Boo Radley's shoes. She can understand his point of view both as a human being and physically, as she stands and views the town from his front porch. Good stuff!
Final Essay on Education (Thesis with Tension)
Essays on the mockingbird symbol are due by May 21.
I gave students a handout which they will need to answer part of the final essay prompt on the topic of Education. Much is said about formal schooling in the novel. Harper Lee gives a very critical view of methods of teaching and of some educational jargon in Chapters 2, 3 and 4, and Atticus voices his criticism of some educational philosophies in his speech to the jury in Chapter 20. Certainly Scout is depicted as learning more from Atticus and Calpurnia and from her experiences outside school than from her formal schooling. The scenes at school provide a direct counterpoint to Atticus's effective education of his children: Scout is frequently confronted with teachers who are either frustratingly unsympathetic to children's needs or morally hypocritical (Miss Caroline and Miss Gates). Remember: we aren't just discussing Harper Lee's views as expressed through the novel; you're going to take a position and agree or disagree with her.
Please refer to the essay outline I provided you a few weeks ago to help with crafting this essay. It is due by May 31 and should include a thesis with tension and a Works Cited (MLA Format).
The final quiz will be next week. The final quiz will include story content, vocabulary, information from the Key Facts handout (literary analysis), information from the Great Depression handout (especially the timeline), and a few questions derived from our in class topics, such as Jim Crow and the Scottsboro Boys Trials.
Last class next Thursday! What a journey this has been--see you then!
Analysis Chapters 17-24
Our discussion of last week's reading led us into an examination of three of the trial witnesses…their testimonies and their demeanor on the stand and a discussion of the events in this section. We finish the reading this week!
I then pulled up a map of Maycomb, Alabama. Bearing in mind that Maycomb is a fictional town, we took a "tour" of the town using the map. I think it's fun as we read to have a clear visual of the town. One could say it even serves as a character in the novel. So much happens in the space of a few blocks!
To Kill a Mockingbird begins as a story about curiosity, sibling adventures, and the first school days. The novel evolves into a saga about criminal justice, legal representation, and deep-rooted Southern values. All the events lead to the final, tragic event: Tom Robinson’s guilty verdict. At this tragic moment, Jem forsakes “background” in exchange for how long his family has “been readin’ and writin’.” He believes that literacy allows the Finches to rise above prejudice. In the face of such injustice, Jem realizes that Boo Radley may want to stay inside to avoid the prejudice and injustice prevalent in Maycomb.
Next, I quizzed the students on characters and plot for Parts I & II. I had them try to remember the names of all the major and (most) minor characters as quickly as they could and then took another few minutes to complete a plot summary. Plot summaries are very helpful in reviewing events that you have been reading about over a longer period of time. This particular novel is full of characters and events, and it's easy for younger readers to lose their way. The writing tends to be more subtle as well. This was also the case with our last novel, My Antonia. Remember, these two books were not written with young audiences in mind, and although the reading is not overly difficult, it may require students to back up and review certain passages when needed.
My "pop quiz" generally showed that students are following the novel, with a few holes here and there. They were given two or three words and then had to complete the sentence to essentially form a timeline of the plot. Some sentences were easy, and some, a little trickier! Take your time with the last chapters and really let it soak in!
If you want a good laugh, ask them what detail they missed about Mr. Avery until I explained a particular scene to them. :)
So, most people have heard by now that there is a sequel to Mockingbird. I took the last few minutes of class to read an excerpt from a New York Times article that was written this February. The new book, Go Set a Watchman, is scheduled to be released this July. I really hope some of our students will be inspired to at least try it when it comes out! There is a bit of controversy surrounding its publication and its sudden appearance is a bit mysterious.
First, the new novel was "found" among Ms. Lee's archives by her friend and attorney, Tonja Carter. Ms. Carter thought it was a manuscript for an original version of TKAM, when in reality it was the "incubator" for the famous novel. Harper Lee wrote Watchman first. Her publisher was more interested in the flashbacks to Scout's childhood within Watchman, and asked her to write a novel set in that time frame, not the 1950's as Ms. Lee had originally planned. Since Harper Lee was a new and unpublished author, she didn't argue with the publisher. Watchman is therefore the original story of Scout and Atticus set in the 1950's and focuses on the racial tensions of that era. It's referred to as a sequel because this story occurs 20 years after the first, however, it was written BEFORE it!
Second, the bit of controversy surrounding the publication is that Ms. Lee has always despised publicity and is very aged and infirm, not even able to read any longer without a heavy duty reading glass for the nearly blind. She is also thought to be quite congenial and will sign most anything put in front of her (according to some). There was concern expressed by many that it is not her intent to see this novel published, but we'll never know for sure. Her statements about the book have been delivered through her agent and lawyer to the publisher. Her long time protector, sister and attorney, Alice, died at the age of 100+ last fall. Ms. Lee lives in an assisted-living facility and suffered a stroke in 2007. According to her literary agent, Harper Lee has said that Watchman is not a sequel, it is a "parent" to TKAM. I'm so glad our students are reading her novel (or novels) in her lifetime. It is something to remark on and remember, as Mockingbird is one of the most important novels of the 20th century. Will Watchman be one of the most important of the 21st? A lot of people think "lightning won't strike twice." What do you think?
The title of To Kill a Mockingbird has very little literal connection to the plot, but it carries a great deal of symbolic weight in the book. In this story of innocents destroyed by evil, the “mockingbird” comes to represent the idea of innocence. Thus, to kill a mockingbird is to destroy innocence. Throughout the book, a number of characters (Jem, Tom Robinson, Dill, Boo Radley, Mr. Raymond) can be identified as mockingbirds—innocents who have been injured or destroyed through contact with evil. This connection between the novel’s title and its main theme is made explicit several times in the novel: after Tom Robinson is shot, Mr. Underwood compares his death to “the senseless slaughter of songbirds,” and at the end of the book Scout thinks that hurting Boo Radley would be like “shootin’ a mockingbird.” Most important, Miss Maudie explains to Scout: “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but . . . sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” That Jem’s and Scout’s last name is Finch (another type of small bird) indicates that they are particularly vulnerable in the racist world of Maycomb, which often treats the fragile innocence of childhood harshly.
Read the essay prompt on the syllabus. You are going to support with citations from the text why Boo Radley (who like the bird is a victim of children) and Tom Robinson (the "mockingbird" that it is a sin to kill) are seen as the "mockingbirds" in this story (this can be paragraphs two and three). For your fourth paragraph, you're going to tell me who you think the third mockingbird is (there is no right/wrong answer, and this is widely debated and discussed). If you can make a case for it with a quote from the book and your own reasoning, I'll go with it. Remember, for our purposes, a "mockingbird" is someone whose innocence has been injured or destroyed.
There is also a case for Scout to be the third mockingbird. Scout, who is small and plain, but "sings" her own song (the novel). Both Tom and Boo are victims of their own kindness (towards Mayella; towards the children); both are innocent (of rape; of psychopathy); both are victims of prejudice; both are "caged." More subtly, the mockingbird could represent the innocence of childhood which is "killed" in various ways for Scout, Jem, and Dill. The mockingbird first appears in Chapter 10, when Atticus tells the children, "Shoot all the bluejays you want... but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird." Miss Maudie explains this is because mockingbirds are neither harmful nor destructive, but only make music for people to enjoy. Its connection with Boo is made clear in Chapter 30, where Scout recognizes that the public exposure of Boo would be "sort of like shootin' a mockingbird." Other than the above instances the symbol recurs in Chapter 21 ‐ waiting for the trial verdict and Chapter 25 ‐ in Underwood's article.
Analysis Chapters 9-16
This week's focus was on courage and conflict (both internal and external). We talked about how the different characters are showing courage in ways that are unique to their current situations. Atticus showed courage when he had to shoot the mad dog, and must continue to be courageous in defending Tom Robinson. Mrs. Dubose showed courage when she refused to die addicted to morphine, and Scout and Jem are learning to temper their responses when dealing with the town's backlash against Atticus.
For next week, please read through to chapter 24, fill in the Active Reading chart with the additional three witnesses from the trial, and answer the usual short answer questions. Essay reminder is below.
Conflict: External vs. Internal
At the heart of every novel is conflict, the struggle between two opposing forces. In an external conflict, a character struggles against some outside force, such as another person, nature, society, or fate. An internal conflict is a struggle between two opposing thoughts or desires within the mind of a character. As you read through to chapter twenty-one, try to notice how the external and internal conflicts introduced in the first section intensify.
We then did three exercises that emphasized external vs. internal conflict. In the first, each student was given a scenario and then had to identify whether the conflict was external or internal, and if external, whether it was a conflict between nature, society, or another character. The second exercise required students to then identify four conflicts from the novel that fit the four different possible types of conflicts--they did a great job with this as "conflict with nature" from the book is a little more difficult to come up with. The third exercise allowed students to have some fun completing four fictional scenarios, again, one of each type. By the end, we were pretty confident we could identity all four types of conflict!
The Civil Rights Movement
We ended class on a serious note by reading through some basic information on the Civil Rights Movement and then hearing a speech given by Fannie Lou Hamer at the 1964 DNC. This is an incredibly powerful speech and very difficult to listen to. One woman's story of her refusal to be dissuaded from registering to vote--despite threats of harm and repeated physical abuse in jail--is truly sobering. While the characters in our novel show courage in their own ways, Fannie Lou Hamer is an example of a truly courageous human being. If you would like to listen to her speech, it is HERE.
Final Expository Essay
There is no essay due next week (hurray!), but that doesn't mean you have nothing to do. :) Please complete the research worksheet that I gave you before next week. We have two more essays to go--one on symbolism within the novel and the final essay on education. The education essay is due May 21.