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To Kill a Mockingbird: What Makes it Classic?

by Jennifer Barnette
July 1, 2010

To Kill a Mockingbird: What Makes it Classic?

Among APT's newly developed "American Classics Series" is Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird, now celebrating its 50th Anniversary.  Our process with the selected classic literature has been to create unique educational experiences for the classroom which use drama-in-education techniques to help students answer for themselves: What makes this book a classic?  Well, this week The New York Times opened that conversation up for the general public, and the comments vary from criticism to eulogy.

Tell us what you think on our To Kill a Mockingbird BACKSTAGE WALL.

To Killjoy ‘Mockingbird’,from The New York Times 'Idea of the Day' Section

Today’s idea: “It’s time to stop pretending that ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is some kind of timeless classic that ranks with the great works of American literature,” a critic says.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Literature | Fiftieth-anniversary parade for “To Kill a Mockingbird,” meet your rainstorm. He is Allen Barra, a native Alabaman like the novel’s author, Harper Lee. In The Wall Street Journal, the journalist calls the Southern antibigotry classic and perennial high school reading assignment a simplistic, “sugar-coated myth of Alabama’s past that millions have come to accept,” featuring the dull, one-dimensional lawyer, Atticus Finch, and “a repository of cracker-barrel epigrams.” He writes:

In all great novels there is some quality of moral ambiguity, some potentially controversial element that keeps the book from being easily grasped or explained. One hundred years from now, critics will still be arguing about the real nature of the relationship between Tom and Huck, or why Gatsby gazed at that green light at the end of the dock across the harbor. There is no ambiguity in “To Kill a Mockingbird”; at the end of the book, we know exactly what we knew at the beginning: that Atticus Finch is a good man, that Tom Robinson was an innocent victim of racism, and that lynching is bad. As Thomas Mallon wrote in a 2006 story in The New Yorker, the book acts as “an ungainsayable endorser of the obvious.”

The book had one thing going for it, though, Mr. Barra says: timing. It appeared in 1960, “the year John F. Kennedy was elected president and the beginning of the decade in which the civil rights movement began to change the South forever” — all but assuring literary acclaim. [The Wall Street Journal]

VISIT HERE to read all the comments from New York Times Readers in response to this post.

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