Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Long Overdue Obligation

I have finally finished a long overdue obligation: read To Kill a Mockingbird.  Somehow I managed to be a lawyer without ever reading this book.  I'm like that hapless English academic in David Lodge's book who confessed during a party game, to the horror of the other professors, that he hadn't read Hamlet.  Now, it is impossible to live in the Western world and not have some inkling of what To Kill a Mockingbird is all about.  I know there is a revered lawyer named Atticus Finch (and that Gregory Peck plays him), his tomboy daughter is called Scout, and the book revolves around the wrongful prosecution of a black man. But for years I had no idea what exactly Atticus Finch did that led to such hero worship.

Well, imagine my surprise when I discovered Harper Lee didn't even get to the trial until Chapter 16, and that the trial scenes were rather brief.  Much of the book centred around Scout's childhood escapades and the Southern way of life, and those first fifteen chapters were rather long. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but that I am rather surprised at how "non-legal" the book is, given that it is the foremost symbol of legal advocacy.

Anyways, now I understand the adulation of Atticus Finch, though as a litigator, he's not fodder for me during job interviews and such. I mean, I can't credibly claimed that I was inspired by Atticus Finch to be a lawyer. (Few lawyers are. It's just the drivel that we spew forth to justify our vocation.) It's always an awkward moment for me when I get asked that question: why do you want to be a lawyer? Why indeed would you want to be a solicitor?  It's tough to come up with an answer that doesn't make you sound like an avaricious lapdog.

Another surprise of the book is that the character Dill was based on Truman Capote. What are the chances that two next door neighbours from a small town in Alabama would become famous authors?  And how is it that the more talented writer wrote only one book, while the lesser one kept churning out high-society pablum?

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