T3 (Third Thursday of the month) is a literary fashion challenge thought up by Maricel at My Closet Cataloge and her friend at A Bibliophile Style – basically you choose an outfit based on a quote from a book you’re reading or have just read (check).
To Kill A Mockingbird
I thought I’d re-visit this story after I saw it in the library whilst browsing the classics, I’m not one to re-read books (or re-watch visual media) but there are a few exceptions and classics aren’t classics for no reason hence after some years I find I can read them again. That might not sound like much in their favour but I personally dislike repeating things/myself and there are very few media that I can leisurely revist again and again let alone in a short period of time. I pay attention quite intensely the first time round and think about/argue the details so I remember them for longer and don’t particularly like to go through it again. That also means that it’s hard for me to pick a quote to use as the basis of an outfit because when I read/look at things a lot tends to stand out and I can’t choose one to interpret or express my opinion. So here’s some background to help show why I chose my outfit.
To Kill A Mockingbird is a book about the nature of people’s bias and prejudices, with a focus on race and particularly Black/White race relations. The book was set in and inspired by events/characters in the 1920-30’s and so parts of it can seem outdated but there are many principles on human nature and nurture that are just as relevant now as they have been for such a long time. The setting is mainly in/about a courtroom case and the differences between law, ethics and the minds of people are highlighted.
The main questions and expositions in the book being on: “how can we trust people to be fair?” So what if you put them in an orchestrated setting and tell them to behave, like in a courtroom (where Black and White are ironically used as the costume of the court) – it doesn’t mean they’ll suddenly turn into fair minded people who can see various points of view. If it did, would that mean they were acting, what about how they are like in everyday life? Many people view it like being on stage, where they don’t want to give their opinions and don’t want to take part due to possible repercussions or because it interferes with their lives. What about the hierarchy of people’s positions in groups? Just look at the mini societies-micro infrastructures in the practise ground of educational institutions where the social/political or personality based roles people take in groups are then often repeated in the workplace and other areas in life where there are face-to-face situations. The same happens in juries, not every member is equal and even if they shouldn’t be, look at some of the factors behind what determines how a group votes. When they are anonymous a number of ‘nasty’ things can turn up for organisers where people decided to show their ‘true colours’ instead of going with the group – or when it’s not anonymous, who has the pervading roles and what is harbouring? What about the idea of a jury of peers? Are they really peers, do they really understand or have any experience in the situation, do they really care, what are their opinions based on? Preferences and resentments from life, watching and experience transfers to the ability to judge and what are instincts based on? People often say ‘if so and so weren’t ruling, things would be better’ and vice versa or as is the case in many uprisings ‘well someone will chosen from the people, an upstanding citizen’… But what makes the ‘people’ really better than their so-called ‘leaders’? Do you really trust everyone around you to do the right thing? Do you really like everyone around you despite situations where you have to get along? What does that lead to – popularity votes from a selected few (and how are those few chosen, usually through having enough status and money to run in the first place and how did they get that) and one regime copying another.
People often start out or sound as if they have ideals, but when push comes to shove they’d rather not have it as bad as others and if others have to have it bad so that they don’t have to or so that they can at least be in a position they can manage that isn’t too repulsive to them – guess who gets sacrificed. Who is running and working in the court? Interesting question. Kinda like how is it countries can be at war with each other, have masses of propaganda and convenient social division and cohesion on issues/events at certain times yet their ‘nobility’ are going off on business trips together, sharing dinners and going to each other’s weddings? Protocol, work? Yeah like those excuses really help anybody, well anybody outside the inner pyramid.
A secondary theme is family; that you can’t generally choose them and no matter what happens they are called ‘family’ in name at least. Many people are not happy with their families or particular family members but yet they are usually given priority over non-members. Then there are family members who are not wanted, replaced and passed on from place to place. The example is extended to various groupings people fall into – how people are members of a race/ethnicity, of social and financial classes and ultimately the irony of sub-group clashes when we are the same species/family. How much does family vs personal merit count?
Another theme is that of revenge and what happens when people are made accountable for something, they usually take it out further on the victim or others. Disproportionate emotions which led to the offence and factors into the reactions afterwards. The opposite to which is ‘blind justice’ – highlighting issues where ‘justice’ that is ignorant, distant, uneducated, disaffected and composed of groupings that have to mind their associations with each other. Retribution isn’t really touched upon but that might seem vigilante and would go against the courtroom setting as well as the notion of democracy.
That is the gist of the book – players and the game/system, the players who make up the game and keep it going, how the game takes over society and the consequences. Players doing what they can in the game or only what is acceptable yet acknowledging the human mental conditioning and the motivations behind it. As aforementioned it was based in the 1920-30’s so minor things like half the population not being thought of as sound enough in mind to deal with big matters like dispensing legal ‘justice’, people thought of as crazies, demented, too young, criminal, bloody foreigners, people generally not liked at that particular time aren’t really given the same credence as the main character representations. For example the females in the book that are respected or shown as intelligent are rebuked (e.g. one being told by the school that she shouldn’t be allowed to read and write) or given second fiddles in the usual ‘not bad, for a woman’ ethos. But hey what do you want? Do you honestly expect with the big ‘ol brains humans have that they’d be able to care about and be ethical regarding everything/everyone other than the issues/factors that immediately affect them/those they personally care about or hit them in the pocket? Oy vey, that’s asking a lot, we only use a fraction of our brains in our lifetime don’tcha know 😉
The actual crime that the story revolves around is of one of the worst acts of violation that can be desired/planned/aided/committed but not much focus is given to it, it is instead used as leverage to heighten the injustice of the situation and everyone’s feelings of quiet rage, disgust and ultimately desensitization/acceptance to ‘the way of life’ or as we call in modern days; rape culture (http://psychologybenefits.org/2014/02/18/3-components-of-rape-culture-and-what-you-can-do-to-fight-back/). The only connotation of interest it is given is that it is a man who came up with the idea to use it as a false accusation and was backed up by others because of their prejudices. The girl involved isn’t really focused on in the story but goes along with it.
Those who help in the background, or quietly or in a inconspicuous way are often sidelined, maligned or thought of in hindsight whilst those who shout the loudest longest or follow orders or relish the idea of the spoils of victory tend to get branded as heroes. This book shows that people can’t trust what they consider to be their instincts much of the time especially since so many of them are fear based including impressions and opinions on physical appearance.
Two famous films that remind me of this book are A Time To Kill (1996) and The Green Mile (1999).
So how does this relate to my outfit?
“If there’s just one kind of folks, why can’t they get along with each other? If they’re all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other? Scout, I think I’m beginning to understand something. I think I’m beginning to understand why Boo Radley’s stayed shut up in the house all this time.”
This quote is part of a discussion between two of the main characters in the book, two children named Scout and Jem who act as the ‘innocent voyeurs’ in the book, learning as they go along from the people around them and remarking/sometimes acting upon the situation. Boo Radley is a bit like the older neighbour in the film Home Alone (1990), a hidden helper in the neighbourhood though generally keeps to himself and is seen as mysterious/dark/quiet, someone to be uncertain of. Following the trial they remark upon how after having seen all they’ve seen they can understand somewhat why Boo is private. It is ‘Boo’ (i.e. the ghost/shadow) who ultimately kills the main antagonist in the book in self-defense protecting the children after society, the education system, the legal system and ultimately family has failed the victims. His act is covered up by the main characters in the story to ‘protect’ him from public acknowledgement/thanks as in their opinion it would be too much on his reclusive/behind the scenes persona. I think they missed the point and their hiding the truth would not help him or society in general.
I’ve always said people are people wherever they are, whatever they look like, however their cultures may be decorated – their behaviours and personalities don’t differ.
1) Well the outfit obviously had to fit the Black/White theme (also classically fashionable) and deals with people as social animals within groupings. That reminded me of Animal Farm by George Orwell where non-human animals are used to portray human individualist and pack mentalities. My jumpsuit reminds me of Zebra print which is not only Black & White but represents an animal seen as prey, the hunted – both books have an animal in their title, both about victims (the direct ones in Animal Farm being a horse and donkey) and victimizers and where the defenders of the hunted are outnumbered, gossiped about and share in the backlash. Wearing a zebra print rather than say a dalmatian print pays tribute to the hunted/those treated unjustly and keeps the horse relation. The Black/White theme also shows that no matter how clear cut our ideals may be people find it very hard to live by them, mainly falling into shades of Grey where they believe positive and negative character traits and behaviours/actions can offset or redeem each other.
2) On the human groupings side – my skin colour allows me to fall into the minority category in ye olde Albion. I’m Brown skinned so in between Black and White which could have philosophical tangents but at the end of the day my first hand and inherited experience of racism is not more or less than anybody else’s in similar situations. Racism is worldwide, all races have been used as slaves and experienced genocide/ethnic cleansing as well as enslaved and tortured their own and others. Racism is an excuse for an outlet, a symptom of further internal desires to subjugate and control, hence it sits well with other prejudices.
3) I’m female – another so-called minority and so contradicting the opinion/belief in this book that women are either incapable of thought and understanding, just as much or as little as men or if they are respected then they’re praised with the ‘not bad, for a woman’ ethos or female versions of their husbands i.e. Mrs ‘husband’s name’. The ‘prick us do we not bleed’ figure of speech applies to all.
4) I have an appearance that is a bit like Marmite and can do a fair hermit portrayal – not in the same visual way as the character Boo Radley (interestingly the person he was based on in real life was locked up for 24 years by his father following some kind of incident) from the book but similar and an image which to some goes with certain stereotypes that are quite unsavoury. To others it contradicts what they consider normal and acceptable and to some it is actually something beautiful or aspiring to be anyway.
Wearing Black/White in this case shows that as a person of appearance which fits into various conflicts and is different than normal (except in a few places where people generally mistake the ‘extra glamorous’ look and position it can bring as empowerment and others seek to degrade/flaunt it further) I understand that the meta-narrative of the book is about appearances. Physical appearances and first/shallow impressions based on socio-political-economic-cultural relations, and how they are manifested by the need to divide and conquer.
5) As examples of the above, the book features miscarriages of justice both in and outside of the legal setting, the loss of innocence and people doing what they think they have to to be a part of society, of family, of their group. Going along with one and going against another because the obligations are hard to juggle, big and small actions that effect everybody slowly making dents in the overall consciousness but nevertheless trying to move past things that can’t be undone. No matter the atrocities the living always try to move on continuously repeating things they’d rather not happen to them in the quest of making life more acceptable and bearable, but to do so they have to forget to an extent and have the ability to normalize atrocity. Black and White also symbolizes death and paying respect to it, traditionally Black in Western society and White in Eastern – I was born in one and ethnically of the other so wearing both fully fits the significance of this outfit.
6) Accessories – The headpiece features a Black centre and wings, the whole thing is Silver coloured and I’ve worn it on my head as per the expression “it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” and wings representing freedom, it pays tribute to all those wronged. If I had to be justice I certainly wouldn’t be blind/folded in any way and neither was the original Lady Justice, the goddess going back through time a morph of The Maid/Daughter whose divinity i.e created from truth guaranteed her impartiality (ironically enough the original non-blinded personification has been maintained atop London’s Old Bailey). Also interesting to note, many goddesses throughout the world and eras carried a bird.
Notable uses of symbolism in the book
The father playing the righteous lawyer, he is widowed and named after a number of classical philosophers. The name Atticus interestingly enough is also famous as the name for both the father-in-law and daughter that the general Agrippa married. I remember reading about his strategies. On the whole the name is a carry through from the classical Graeco-Roman empire representing ‘enlightenment’ for the chosen few e.g. what is still thought of as fairness and democracy. A double edged sword of a name given it’s prominence amongst those who were a part of a long line of peoples subjugating (or from their point of view, liberating and improving) much of Africa, reminds me of the way Cecil Rhodes is lauded here.
The use of the right and left metaphorically with hands. Remember what right and left hands have signified to people where the right hand/path is the better and the left hand/path is dirty or inferior. In some places this was taken even further so that the right hand is masculine and left hand is feminine. The use of the right hand in this book further shows the accused is innocent and he did not use his right hand to hurt the girl. The girl in question represents the left hand/path and her father who forces her to falsely testify is left handed. Note – Mayella (the girl) is notably shown in the book as having grown Red geraniums, Red being a colour twisted from its roots in its cultural use for female sexuality. In the book she is so downtrodden and cornered that she resorts to what has later likened her to a prostitute.
The name Tom. Tom Robinson is the name of the Black man falsely accused, convicted and slaughtered; failed by society, his peers and the legal system. Remember what the name Tom means in US Black cultural history. The phrase ‘Uncle Tom’ has been used by many in later years as an insult akin to using ‘zebra’ as an insult to mixed race Black/White children and or the popular modern use of the wholly detestable ‘n- word’. But remember that part of the inspiration for Tom was Josiah Henson and that before the rewrites Tom was a character who helped many slaves, like Tom in this book helped Mayella at times because he felt sympathy for her. Tom and Mayella were different in age, colour and sex but both were prisoners. It’s a shame that their non-romantic relationship was changed and one used against the other. One abused by the father and the other defended by the father figure of the book who worked within the infrastructure of the system, in the courtroom – knowing and accepting that it wasn’t right and speaking all throughout the book on its faults and the faults of the people it was composed of/depended upon.
The bird symbolism, various birds are given different connotations e.g. the Egyptian symbolism on US money, everything from Horus (later Zeus) the eagle giving rise to the image of a convenient counterpart, the bald eagle being normalized as a national symbol signifying all manner of things from truth and justice to strength and power and pointing out that it’s a damned able predator with super efficient ways of hunting, killing and very tough methods or rearing its young is not recommended. To kill a mockingbird was seen as a sin because:
“That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. “Your father’s right,” she said. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
Killing a mockingbird was seen a senseless act of cruelty, as mockingbirds signified those who do not hurt us and give to us. (The same is thought of cows in India – they represent the giving without taking essence of motherhood – but I guess people figure cows are more useful, farmed and tasty than mockingbirds so it’s not deemed senseless.) The father also told the children in the book that they could try and kill as many bluejays as they wanted. His surname – after the interesting first name – is finch. Another type of songbird.
Speaking of songbirds, I remembered the perfect song to end this post sung by a group of awesome vocalists.