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To Kill A Mockingbird

To Kill A Mockingbird

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Aaron Sorkin’s version of To Kill a Mockingbird on Broadway has obvious relevance and resonance in our current political climate. The acting is impressive and entertaining. The story is largely true to Harper Lee’s classic novel. But sometimes Broadway’s Atticus Finch sometimes sounds a little bit like the West Wing’s President Bartlett. That’s okay though. It reminds the audience to consider nostalgia for dignified leadership.

From a psychological perspective, the play explores the dilemma of single parenting. Scout is the play’s protagonist and she and her brother, Jem, and their hilarious friend Dill fend for themselves in a gritty Alabama town in the 1930s. Unlike the book, the play wastes no time getting to the falsely accused defendant Tom Robinson’s rape trial. Their widower father, Atticus, is a dignified defense attorney who acts as a vessel championing justice, etiquette and human decency. Atticus lives and breathes to model and teach his children these values. Their nanny, Calpurnia, functions as a surrogate mother and more of a sibling than a stand-in spouse for Atticus. As she breaks rank and points out, sometimes the values of justice, etiquette and decency can clash and collide.

Scout, and Jem emphasize justice. And their dignified, determined but beleaguered father prioritizes etiquette. The irony — as true today as it was in the 1930s when the book takes place or in 1960 when the book was written — is that parents often learn as much from their children as the children learn from their parents.

Atticus teaches his children that life isn’t fair. Scout and Jem teach their father that sometimes justice is more meaningful and complicated than manners will allow.

This is a propitious time to be reminded that protest in the face of injustice and indecency may require less attention to etiquette.

Elisabeth LaMotte

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