Dixie Darr

In Learning on August 4, 2009 at 7:25 am

Learning History through Fiction

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is my all-time favorite book. I first read it and saw the movie in the early 60s when they first came out. I watched the movie again a couple of years ago and was surprised and pleased at how well it stood up after almost 50 years. This year the book was selected for the One Book One Denver program. I found the CD version (narrated by Sissy Spacek—a perfect choice) at the library. It tells the story of a young girl, Scout Finch, in Maycomb, Alabama during the Depression who watches her lawyer father take on the other white people in town by defending a black man who could not possibly have committed the rape he is accused of. Maybe because it was told through the perspective of a girl about my own age, it taught me more about prejudice than stories of the civil rights movement on the TV news could.

Decades later, I encountered The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

and added it to my list of favorite books. I’ve read it two or three times, listened to the CD book, and watched the movie. Last month the pastor at my church preached on the movie about Lily, a teenager in the South in the 60s. Abused by her father and believing that, at four years old, she accidentally shot and killed her mother, she runs away with the black housekeeper, who was beaten and then arrested when she tried to register to vote. Searching for her mother’s history, they find a household of black women who raise bees and sell honey.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett is a current bestseller also set in the early 60s in the South with the Civil Rights movement swirling in the background. I downloaded the audio version from my local library.

A young white woman, nicknamed Skeeter, from the privileged class returns to Jackson, Mississippi, after graduating college. She wants to be a writer and lands a job at the local newspaper writing a column on housekeeping, a subject she knows absolutely nothing about because she grew up with a maid. She takes her questions about housekeeping to the black woman who works as a maid and nanny for her friend, beginning an uneasy alliance between the two women.

Another of Skeeter’s friends, a leader among the young white women in town, begins a campaign to install toilets for the black maids in unheated garages and sheds, so they do not have to use guest bathrooms, which white people are expected to use too. As Skeeter learns more and more about the life of the maids, she decides to write a book from their point of view.

I spent six hours one Saturday listening to the final disks to find out what happened. I sure never did that with a history textbook.


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