Friday, August 17, 2012

A Child's Book?

In the early fall of 1960, Flannery O'Connor received a copy of the novel To Kill a Mockingbird from her friend Caroline Ivey who insisted O'Connor read it.  She did, and afterwards shared her thoughts with Betty Hester:  "I think I see what it really is - a child's book.  When I was fifteen I would have loved it.  Take out the rape and you've got something like Miss Minerva and William Green Hill.  I think for a child's book it does all right.  It's interesting that all the folks that are buying it don't know they're reading a child's book.  Somebody ought to say what it is..." (The Habit of Being, p. 411).  Just because O'Connor felt Lee's novel lacked sophistication, does that make it a bad book?  I don't think so.  In looking back over the literature I was assigned to read in high school, I would have done a lot better with To Kill a Mockingbird than with some of the stuff that was foisted on us.  I don't think a teenager is necessarily ready for Faulkner, Fitzgerald, or even Flannery.  I know I wasn't.  The Great Gatsby was totally beyond me.  Had we, instead, been assigned  To Kill a Mockingbird, I would have been drawn into this story narrated by a child like me who didn't exactly fit in.  Granted Lee's novel is not likely going to be part of an English major's curriculum in college, but that doesn't mean that it isn't suitable for older readers.  I think the best "children's" literature operates on two different levels, and appeals to both children and adults.  Think of a book like The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.  Even the best cartoons (e.g. Bugs Bunny, Rocky & Bullwinkle) are not geared solely for children.  The same goes for To Kill a Mockingbird.  Its themes are timeless, and it's a delight to read - at whatever age.  Just because a book is popular does not necessarily mean it's bad. Maybe Flannery was just a little bit jealous.
- Mark

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