See Disclaimer Below.

Posts Tagged ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’

Atticus Finch: Still a Hero?

In America, American History, American Literature, Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, Books, Fiction, History, Humanities, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, Scholarship, Southern Literature, The Novel, The South, Writing on October 21, 2015 at 8:45 am

Allen 2

Despite blots on his character after Harper Lee’s publication of Go Set a Watchman, Atticus Finch can and probably should remain a hero, though not without qualification. He can no longer represent the impossible standard of perfection that no actual person or compelling fictional character could meet.

If it wasn’t clear before, it is now: Atticus is a flawed man who despite his depravity found the courage and wisdom to do the right thing under perilous circumstances.

Consider what Uncle Jack says to Jean Louise Finch in the final pages of Watchman: “As you grew up, when you were grown, totally unknown to yourself, you confused your father with God. You never saw him as a man with a man’s heart, and a man’s failings – I’ll grant you it may have been hard to see, he makes so few mistakes, but he makes ‘em like all of us.”

These words are aimed at adoring readers as much as at Jean Louise. They’re not just about the Atticus of To Kill a Mockingbird; they are about any Atticuses we might have known and loved in our lives: our fathers, grandfathers, teachers, coaches, and mentors. Lee may have had her own father, A. C. Lee, in mind. After all, he was, according to Lee’s biographer Charles Shields, “no saint, no prophet crying in the wilderness with regard to racial matters. In many ways, he was typical of his generation, especially about issues involving integration. Like most of his generation, he believed that the current social order, segregation, was natural and created harmony between the races.”

Yet A. C. Lee defended two black men charged with murder, just as Atticus defended Tom Robinson.

The above text is an excerpt from my essay “Children Once, Not Forever: Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman and Growing Up,” published in the Indiana Law Journal Supplement, Vol. 91, No. 6 (2015). To view the full essay, you may download it here at SSRN or visit the website of the Indiana Law Journal.

 

Screening Legal Education

In Arts & Letters, Creativity, Film, Humanities, Law, Legal Education & Pedagogy, Pedagogy, Rhetoric, Teaching, Writing on June 15, 2011 at 10:59 pm

Allen Mendenhall

We go to the movies to enter a new, fascinating world, to inhabit vicariously another human being who at first seems so unlike us and yet at heart is like us, to live in a fictional reality that illuminates our daily reality.  We do not wish to escape life but to find life, to use our minds in fresh, experimental ways, to flex our emotions, to enjoy, to learn, to add depth to our days.

 —Robert McKee, from Story

Law school is, in a way, about performing.  From the minute you walk into the building as a 1L, you search for and construct a new identity—one that conforms to your assumptions of what a lawyer is and does.

The first time a professor called on me—Mr. Mendenhall, can you tell us how the judge in this case distinguishes restitutionary from reliance damages?—I panicked.  I knew the answer.  More or less.  But I had no chance to rehearse.  Here I was, before a large audience, a packed house, all alone, all eyes on me.

“Um, yes,” I stammered, apparently suffering from stage fright.

I don’t remember how I answered—not precisely—but I remember taking a deep breath, feigning confidence, and pretending to know what the professor expected me to know.  I must’ve sounded silly talking about things I hardly understood; but I must’ve performed satisfactorily because the professor let me alone and interrogated another student.

My first audition.  Read the rest of this entry »

Grappling With Story; or, Climbing into the Skin of Another: Applying Literary Truths to the Black Letter of Law

In Arts & Letters, Creative Writing, Law-and-Literature, Legal Education & Pedagogy on July 19, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Jonathan Board lives in West Virginia with his wife and two children.  A graduate of West Virginia University College of Law, he has also attended Harvard Extension School, Fairmont State University, Bob Jones University, and Witherspoon School of Law & Public Policy.

“A literature class?  In law school?  Are you sure you want to spend your time and money on that?”

Thus spoke my perplexed supervising attorney.  Weeks later, as I reviewed the syllabus for Law & Literature, his words haunted me.  The names on the syllabus ranged from Komie to Tolstoy to Melville to Kafka.  Of course, “the list” (as it was to become known) was much longer and full of colorful personalities, but, at least in my mind, most of the readings seemed like odd studies for law school.  Nevertheless, I was in my last semester, and I simply could not look at another case book.  So, on a cold January day, I clambered up icy, ugly, gray-yellow steps, found my classroom and a seat next to my best friend (who had strongly encouraged me to take this course and whose judgment I now questioned), and I began to discuss literature, a thing I thought I knew little about.

The “list,” for me, was daunting.  I’d never taken a graduate literature course, and I was several years removed from my college English courses.  I felt like Abraham’s son, Isaac, about to be slaughtered, except that there was no ram in the thicket and I wasn’t submitting to a father’s trembling hand but to a law professor’s pen and grade sheet.  My fears were abated, to a degree, when the professor walked in.  I’d heard that this man, Michael Blumenthal, had taught at Harvard and published works in many genres.  I was both excited to sit in his classroom and nervous about embarrassing myself in front of him.  I didn’t know it then, but Blumenthal, whose kindness was contagious, would make a lasting impression.  He encouraged me—us—to devour the works on the list and to apply those works to personal experiences with the law. Read the rest of this entry »

%d bloggers like this: