Red Clay Readers, in partnership with the Alabama Center for Literary Arts, is a book club designed to take a fresh look at a southern classic with the help of our readers. Today we look at Chapters 13 and 14 of "To Kill a Mockingbird."
More than 20 years after being required to read To Kill a Mockingbird in my high school AP English class, the novel remains one of my all-time favorite reads.
When I began my reading for the project, I pulled out the same paperback copy that I used in high school. The biggest difference between reading the story then and reading it now is that, after calling Alabama home for the past 10 years, I delight in a deeper understanding of the novel's setting.
I don t know that any other author has, or even could, capture the essence of the state and its history both the good and the heartbreakingly bad as Harper Lee has.
A large part of the book s charm for me lies with Scout Finch. Pick her up and drop her down into the sugar cane fields of south Louisiana, and she could have been me as a child. On the playground at school, I ignored my female classmates in favor of playing with toy cars and G.I Joe action figures with the boys. At home, it was riding my bike through the cane fields with friends or playing football and baseball with my abundant male cousins.
And I have yet to meet the dress I could stand to wear for more than 10 minutes. I have always felt Scout s pain.
Chapters 13 and 14
I find myself cringing along with Scout and Jem when, at the start of Chapter 13, they find Aunt Alexandra on the Finches doorstep.
Atticus with much cajoling from his sister has determined that the children, particularly Scout, need a female influence in the house. Alexandra says she will stay in Maycomb for a while, which, we are told, could mean anything from three days to 30 years.
Along with her luggage, Aunt Alexandra brings to the Finch home some hardcore, white, Southern womanhood. The neighbors welcome her to town with gatherings and food, including one of Miss Maudie s high-octane Lane cakes.
True to her Southern upbringing, Alexandra becomes a member of several local ladies clubs and invites the neighborhood women over for tea parties and socials. Through her, Jem and Scout are exposed to a proper feminine side of Southern culture that their father has not been able to give them.
The reader learns that Alexandra is an incurable gossip who finds hereditary flaws everything from a Drinking Streak to a Gambling Streak in virtually every family in Maycomb. Atticus, with his characteristic dry wit, points out to his sister that their generation is practically the first in the Finch family not to marry its cousins and asks if that means they have an Incestuous Streak.
When Alexandra demands that the children be told more about their family tree and not just stories about crazy Cousin Joshua Atticus becomes visibly uncomfortable. He appears as horrified as the children do when he tells them they need to start behaving like Finches and learn to live up to the gentle breeding of their ancestors.
Seeing the confusion on Jem and Scout s faces, however, Atticus quickly backtracks. As he does throughout the book, he chooses to allow his children to remain true to themselves.Gregory Peck and 9-year-old Mary Badham portrayed Atticus Finch and his daughter, Scout, in the classic 1962 film version of Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird." (File photo)
Atticus parenting is also a major focus of Chapter 14, during which he undertakes the grim task of explaining details of the Tom Robinson case to Jem and Scout. When Scout, puzzled about the word rape, asks her father its meaning, he tells her the truth.
In that telling, Scout and Jem s trip to Calpurnia s church becomes known, infuriating Aunt Alexandra. She argues with Atticus over the children s bond with Cal, and the appropriateness of their going to the housekeeper s black church or spending time in her home.
Alexandra tries to convince her brother that her own presence means Cal s services are no longer needed, but Atticus will hear nothing of it. He says that Calpurnia, who has raised the children as she would her own, has been a faithful member of the family and will not leave their home until she chooses to.
Meanwhile, a puzzled Scout, who has never heard anyone argue with her father, becomes incensed when Jem urges her not to antagonize their aunt or cause their father more stress. When Jem threatens to spank her, their argument turns into a brawl.
Atticus breaks up the fight, after which a frustrated Scout asks if, in addition to her father, Calpurnia and Aunt Alexandra, she must also start minding Jem. Atticus tells her that she only has to mind Jem when he can make her mind him.
After the children are sent early to bed, Scout finds something under her bed that she thinks is a snake. It turns out to be runaway Dill, who, after spinning a wild tale about being kept chained in the basement by his stepfather, admits he stole money from his mother s purse to travel from Mississippi to Maycomb.
Jem tells Atticus about Dill s appearance, another betrayal of their childhood bond in Scout s mind, and Atticus arranges with Dill s Aunt Rachel for him to spend the night.
That night, Dill tells Scout how he feels unwanted and unneeded by his mother and stepfather, and Scout thinks about how Atticus could not get along without her. As they drift off to sleep, Scout asks Dill why Boo Radley, deprived of any life outside his home, never ran off and Dill says that maybe he doesn t have anywhere to run off to.If you're taking part in our Red Clay Readers book club, what were your impressions of chapters 13 and 14? Did I miss anything? If you're reading it again, are you learning anything new? Share in the comments below, and be sure to listen to author T.K Thorne's impressions in the video accompanying this post.