To Kill a Mockingbird Redux

Joan Weaving


I was 15 the summer of 1963. It was time of hope and optimism. The promise of Civil Rights had permeated our generation, and we embraced it. We learned all the anthems: Blowin’ In the Wind, We Shall Overcome, WE Shall Not be Moved, argued with our parents about attending the march on Washington, and flocked to the movie theatre to see To Kill A Mockingbird which exposed the underbelly of southern segregation and Jim Crow. And oh how we loved Atticus, the gentle and wise soul whose integrity could not be diminished even as he was spat upon.

Last weekend I went to see the play of To Kill A Mockingbird which had had a triumphant run on Broadway with Jeff Daniels as Atticus. Written by Aaron Sorkin of West Wing and News Room fame, it was a reordered telling of the story, and for the most part I thought it was excellent. Richard Thomas (aka John-boy) played Atticus, and though he was no Gregory Peck, he held his own. And the actor who played Tom Robinson, the accused rapist of a white girl, communicated so subtly and powerfully the impossibility of being a black man in a white man’s world that I was moved to tears.

Justin Mark, left, Richard Thomas, Melanie Moore and Steven Lee Johnson in the national touring production of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Photo by Julieta Cervante.

So why, I wondered, did I have this dissatisfaction as I left the theater? It seemed to be more than my dislike of the portrayal of Scout, the young girl who tells the story. The adult actress, wearing overalls and a barrette in her hair, tried to act more childlike with gestures such as stomping her feet and flailing her arms which I found distracting.

As I tossed at night letting my thoughts percolate, I realized that I missed the character of Boo Radley. Boo was the reclusive and compromised neighbor who saves Jem and Scout by killing Bob Ewell, and is himself saved from punishment by the sheriff. He was the mockingbird who it would have been a sin to kill. In the movie there was a palpable shift in Scout when she realizes that Boo is a person, and not the monster she imagined: Boo becomes a human being, someone to admire and respect, and not to discard because he is different. In this recent version, Scout’s discovery is so diluted that it loses its power and weakens the play.

But that was not it entirely either. When the movie came out sixty years ago, we were so swept by our hope and optimism. We believed the battle had been won. Yes, we were foolish and innocent, but even so, have we made sufficient progress? Are the Tom Robinsons and the Boo Radleys of the world better off? As I write this in 2023, I fear we are going backward, not forward, There seems to be more hatred, less tolerance. And I think Alan Sorkin was telling us just that. The story is still relevant all these years later; our dreams are unrealized. And that makes me sad.

Joan Weaving embarked on a successful business career as the first woman Product Manager for Nabisco, Inc., and a Corporate Vice President for Equitable, before starting her own consulting company in 1988, specializing in leadership development and executive coaching for major corporations. Joan has been an active OLLI participant and has played a key role in the conceptualization and execution of the annual Board of Advisor’s retreat. Joan leads our Exploring Leadership Opportunities class in the fall term.

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Tune in next week for the first installment of this summer’s Fiction Festival, beginning with a moving tribute to our WWII veterans and their families.

10 Replies to “To Kill a Mockingbird Redux”

  1. Joan, Thank you for your insightful critique of both the movie and the play and also for your unfortunately accurate of the present world.

  2. Yes, it makes me very sad as well. I am a few years older than you, Joan, and I grew up in Canada, I came to the US for grad school and while Canada is no stranger to horrendous treatment of indigenous peoples, etc,. I was not prepared for the blatant and willful disregard for difference that I encountered here. I also felt hope and optimism as i engaged in political activism and blissfully thought the revolution was around the corner.
    We were part of a zeitgeist that should have prevailed!
    Your insightful and lucid discussion of the play and how times change helps lift my current mood…-and reminds me that hope is still available and more necessary than ever! So..thank you, thank you!

  3. Joan, I can relate so well to your story. I lived in Washington D.C. during much of the unrest of the 60’s. It appeared that the country was moving forward on Civil Rights and a host of other issues.
    I am also dismayed with the current state of uncivil discourse in our country.

  4. Joan, your wonderful critique and summery of both the play and the movie struck home with me . For me, budding with adulthood and consumed with hope in the 60’s and early 70’s it seemed that I was entering a time of justice, expansiveness and creativity. I was a child of hope for all of us, marching to show solidarity with others, against war discrimination and oppression.
    Time really hasn’t changed us all that much. I still want to march, wave my fist and hope for the future, but it seems as out of reach today as it did back then. I think it’s just that these ensuing years have opened my eyes to the realities of life……difference isn’t a blessing, it’s a curse.

  5. I appreciate your thoughtful remarks and memories of a time many of us shared and feel the same about. I watched on the news a woman much older than me speak before a school board about the absurdness of “Florida being against wokeness.” She stood alone. Where are the many of us who could stand beside her, proud of our life experience and wisdom that comes with age? I’m encouraged reading essays like this in Olli Connects.

  6. Thank you, Joan, for your thoughtful analysis. I agree with your perception that things seem much more depressing and discouraging now. We were so hopeful in the ’60’s. I remember thinking that we really would change the world. And now it seems worse — more hatred and anger. Thanks for sharing with us.

  7. I find myself wanting to underline your words, Joan. A lot of positive steps have been taken over time, but so much hate and bigotry are being stirred up these days, it’s heart-breaking.

  8. I was moved by the book and the movie. Growing up in small town Ohio we had very little personal awareness of racism and bigotry or of those situations we only read about or heard about on the radio.

  9. Thanks Joan, for your wonderful analysis of a famous story, movie, and play. Also, for tying in old and present times. Your writing is concrete and thought-provoking!

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