A Title by Any Other Name

We’re all familiar with the great novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee or as she was known to her friends ‘Nell.’ Now, in the beginning of the novel we are told that one does not kill a mockingbird because of the sweet songs it sings. Those of us from the Deep South, however, know a much more pervasive trait of the Mockingbird and that is; Mockingbirds being territorial in nature are bullies. They will chase hawks, crows, snakes and any other creature that comes within a certain distance of their defined territory.

The theme of “…Mockingbird” is dealing with bullies whether the bully is society’s treatment of blacks, Bob Ewell, a lynch mob or a rabid dog. So, what if the title carries a double meaning since the Mockingbird is itself a bully as well as a songbird. I have done a monograph on this the length of which is not suitable for a blog but consider just this aspect:

Have you ever considered the name Nell chose for the protagonist? No, not Atticus which I suspect she lifted from Atticus Haygood, a noted African Methodist Episcopal minister in Atlanta, but the surname Finch. A Finch is a bird that a Mockingbird would run out of its territory but it would also imitate the Finch’s song. But how about the theory that it was the study of the evolution of Finches that made Darwin famous. First of all evolution in itself was a topic of some dispute in the South (The famous Scopes trial being tried during the time period in which Mockingbird is set) and still is unsettled to this day. But think about evolution in terms of a white lawyer named for a black minister representing the evolving attitude of race acceptance in the South. Yet, in “Go Set a Watchman” the original from which “ Mockingbird” is itself an evolution, Atticus is just another redneck. Thus, I see a maturation in the author’s thinking. Was the character’s name a happenstance of subconscious influence on Nell’s writing or was it a purposeful trope? Makes for a good thinking problem on a rainy day.

One of these days I’m going to put some effort into researching whether Scopes and Snopes are related in relation to Faulkner’s use of the later to describe a tribe of ner’do’wells in three of his Yoknapatawpha County novels.

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