To Kill a Mockingbird is Harper Lee’s 1960 novel that became a modern classic. It’s probably the most widely read book dealing with racial injustice in America, and its protagonist, Atticus Finch, the most enduring fictional image of racial heroism.
Cited as a factor in the success of the civil rights movement in the 60s, part of the book’s effectiveness was that it ‘inspires hope in the midst of chaos and confusion’ and that by using racial epithets it portrayed the reality of the times in which it was set. How ironic, then, that administrators at the Biloxi School District in Mississippi (the neighbouring state to Alabama, where the book is set) announced last week that they were pulling the novel from the eighth grade curriculum, which is studied by pupils aged 13 and 14.
They said they’d received complaints that some of the book’s language ‘makes people uncomfortable’. The Sun Herald reported that the problem was ‘the n-word’.
So ‘safe space’ considerations trump the insight and empathy that the great novel uniquely can inspire. It is called the closing of the American mind.