This post is a short one, posed more as a question to you, and which concerns a somewhat sensitive topic…
Now you’ve probably gathered how much I love the Classics. Anything pre-20th century is most likely to end up on my reading list.
However there is a trend I noticed amongst most Classic books that initially used to horrify me but which I now seem to take for granted because of its prevalence.
I’m talking about racism. Racial supremacy is all too inherent in the writings of Classic Literature. In some cases it’s blatant but mostly, it’s subtle. But it’s still noticeable.
What I want to know is, especially if you love the Classics: how do YOU react when you read, say a piece of fiction by a Victorian writer with clear racist undertones in the text? Does it upset you? Or do you take it with a pinch of salt?
As a person of colour myself, I used to be angry but now I find it quite amusing(in a disturbing sort of way). I always remind myself that writers are only human beings. And human beings are to a greater extent products of their environment. And any piece of fiction is a reflection of a writer’s thoughts and feelings. Therefore those feelings are reflective of the prevailing attitudes of the era in which the book was written. Since the Classics were written in times where racial supremacy was not only the norm but also accepted thinking, I tend to consider this when reading an old book.
I did wonder though, how others reacted to this. So, over to you, tell me your thoughts…
The one book that definitely made the biggest impression on me in school was To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
It has the distinction of being the first book ever to have such an emotional impact on me. I was fuming at the incidences of racism; I felt genuine sympathy for Atticus Finch; I think I cried a little when he shot that dog and I wanted to scream in protest at Mayella Ewell and beat her with a crowbar!
As a South African teenager the issues of racism really hit home and I marveled at the irony of reading an American setbook in school, whose major themes mirrored the very issues we were dealing with in our then fledgling democracy.
To Sir, With Love was another great setbook that also dealt with racism in society and in relationships yet Mockingbird seemed all the more impressive in terms of its messages and its characters.
Set in the American South in 1930’s, Atticus is a literary hero who cannot be easily forgotten. The decision to tell the story from his daughter Scout’s point of view was an excellent one on Lee’s part. She’s such an endearing character, and her innocent but blunt point of view made all the injustices in the book seem greater.
Even the most cynical and stony-hearted person will be moved by this story. I recently picked up Mockingbird to read it for a second time. Being the sensitive little softie that I am, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Not because I would find it boring the second time around, but because I could still remember the storyline very clearly and all the emotions it stirred up within me the first time I read it. Only a true classic can accomplish this.
I feel every person on the planet should read To Kill a Mockingbird at least once in their life, so if you haven’t yet, do yourself a favour and get a copy of this book.