This is a tough question to tackle, and one I try so hard to be open about with my classes! To Kill a Mockingbird is a complicated, complex, canonical American novel, and so if I decide to teach it, I try incredibly hard to teach it well. (You can decide if I accomplished it or not–I’m constantly reinventing and trying to make it more thorough each year!)
Still, I wonder every year if I should teach this novel.
Image from the Young Adult Library Services Association.
Alice Randall makes some of my arguments for me in our article this week. She talks about the racism and historical context of the novel, which are both difficult and important, but also hits my weak spot: that “another kind of damage less often discussed is how the text encourages boys and girls to believe women lie about being raped” (Randall 1). Oof. So I might be teaching my students that sexual assault survivors shouldn’t be believed?! That’s a scary proposition, and one I desperately want not to be true.
I think my emotional reaction to this argument is what makes it so compelling and convincing to me. I’m not sure how exactly I should teach the courtroom scene in a way that doesn’t shame Mayella (who is definitely a victim of her own life circumstances, even if she is also a villain): this year’s court reporting was a way to try to balance the facts, as well as reveal some of Mayella’s complexity. Does that go far enough towards showing that we must consider facts? Does it teach that we should treat both the innocent and the guilty with compassion? I’m not sure, but I hope so.