We Were All Children Once (Even Lawyers)

To Kill A Mockingbird Post IIIIn Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, we view a Depression Era criminal trial of an African American man in Alabama through the innocent eyes of our young narrator, “Scout” Finch. The trial reveals the hateful side of Maycomb County, thus becoming a painful lesson for Scout, her brother Jem, and their friend Dill, the latter of which is so overcome with emotion during the prosecution’s harsh cross-examination of the defendant that Scout must escort Dill outside. As a surprisingly perceptive and sober Dolphus Raymond explains, “things haven’t caught up with [Dill’s] instinct yet. Let him get a little older and he won’t get sick and cry. Maybe things’ll strike him as being–not quite right, say, but he won’t cry, not when he gets a few years on him (229).”

After the inevitable verdict, Atticus echoes Mr. Raymond’s sentiment when he says, it “seems that only children weep” at the cycle of injustice in society (243). The justice system portrayed in Lee’s novel consists of jurors, judges, and lawyers, all drawn from the community, who are either inured to the injustice (at best) or in support of it (at worst), despite that fact that not one of them was born with such prejudice in their hearts.

We see that innocence in Scout, Jem, and Dill, who struggle to make sense of Maycomb County’s socially constructed hierarchies based on race and “background.” Scout concludes, emphatically, “I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks,” to which Jem replies dubiously, “That’s what I thought, too… when I was your age (259).”

Jem is twelve, around the age many readers first become acquainted with him, his family, and their thinly fictionalized Alabama. It’s a “pivotal age,” when, as author Lois Lowry once said, “[children] are still deeply affected by what they read… [and] books can change the way they feel about the world in general.” For these children, who are approaching adulthood, To Kill a Mockingbird contains an important reminder of the innocence of youth, a lesson they shouldn’t forget as they see the ways in which their reality hasn’t changed as much as they’re often told it has since Lee’s/Scout’s time. It’s an unfair reality they shouldn’t tolerate.

I was one of those children who was deeply affected by Harper Lee’s novel, a book that begins with an epigraph by essayist Charles Lamb: “Lawyers, I suppose, were children once.” Like many lawyers, I count this novel among the influences that eventually led me to law school and to my public interest legal career. It was a pleasure to revisit Lee’s words, which encouraged me to reminisce about my childhood and to evaluate whether my own sense of justice has remained true to who I am. I look forward to discussing this novel with my daughters someday. They don’t want to be lawyers, but we’ll see if they change their minds after meeting Atticus.

*This is the third and final post on my blog as a participant in Roof Beam Reader’s Read-along (Thank you to Adam for encouraging me to revisit this novel!). My previous posts are Revisiting the “Soft Pages” of To Kill A Mockingbird and Our Morbid Curiosity: Watching “Poor Devils” (Or Maybe Just “Devils“) On Trial.

**Check out the discussion on Twitter (#Mockingbirdreads).

25 thoughts on “We Were All Children Once (Even Lawyers)

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  8. To Kill a Mockingbird is such a powerful novel. I need to make time to re-read this one soon. It is one of those rare books that remain with you long after you read that last sentence. Thanks for visiting me @ The Key to the Gate!
    Happy Reading,
    Rebecca @ The Key to the Gate

    1. Yes, this novel has stayed with me for two decades. I loved it the first time I read it, but I appreciated it in new ways as an adult. Thanks for stopping by!

  9. It’s been a long time since I read this book – I’ll have to revisit it soon. 🙂 I was just thinking about how, as a child, my belief in things was so much stronger, including my belief in what’s right or wrong, or fair. I think we lose some of that as we get older – Harper Lee does a good job of portraying that loss, and I agree that it’s good to check in sometimes with the person we are versus the person we thought we’d grow up to be. Great post! 🙂

    1. Yeah, we do lose that clear sense of right and wrong as we grow older. Part of it is that we learn that life is full of gray areas, but some of it comes from over-exposure to injustice that leaves us feeling jaded and desensitized. I highly recommend revisiting To Kill A Mockingbird. It’s such a wonderful book. Thanks for the comment!

    1. To Kill a Mockingbird really stands the test of time. I hope you enjoy re-reading it. Also, I wanted to thank you for Jamaica Inn and the bookmark. I’m looking forward to reading it!

    1. I hope you enjoy it! Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is ideal for a young audience, but I appreciated it in new ways as an adult. I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed Slaughterhouse-Five. It’s one of my favorite books.

    1. I love that Lowry quote, too. I think she’s entirely right. The books that changed me the most were the ones I read when I was younger (not that I’m completely set in my ways now!). To Kill a Mockingbird is ideal for a young audience, but it’s a great read for adults, too. I appreciated new aspects of it.

  10. Star

    I agree! The impressionable tween and preteen years are a good age for literature to take root. I need to read To Kill a Mockingbird again.

    1. Yeah, the books that changed my perspective on life the most were the ones I read as a child or teenager. I hope you enjoy re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird!

    1. Interesting! I hadn’t seen that. I’m glad to hear about the donation to an organization for military personnel and their families, particularly when Rowling assumed a fake identity as a military officer. Donations are important, but I wish she had verbalized an apology, too. I think it’s wrong that she’s allowed to do whatever she wants because she’s JK Rowling. I imagine people would’ve been quite angry if “Robert Galbraith” had turned out to be James Frey or an unknown blogger like me.

      1. I think you may not be so unknown. It is probably because of bloggers like you that caused her to make amends. I doubt she would be so philanthropic without a push. I was surprised to read the article and my first thought was of your posts.

        1. That’s nice of you to say. I do enjoy my own little piece of the Internet. Thanks for pointing that article out to me. I hope you’re having a nice weekend!

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