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Reimagining To Kill a Mockingbird

Reimagining To Kill a Mockingbird: Family, Community, and the Possibility of Equal Justice under Law

Austin Sarat
Martha Merrill Umphrey
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Reimagining To Kill a Mockingbird
    Book Description:

    Fifty years after the release of the film version of Harper Lee’s acclaimed novel To Kill a Mockingbird, this collection of original essays takes a fresh look at a classic text in legal scholarship. The contributors revisit and examine Atticus, Scout, and Jem Finch, their community, and the events that occur there through the interdisciplinary lens of law and humanities scholarship. The readings in this volume peel back the film’s visual representation of the manylayered social world of Maycomb, Alabama, offering sometimes counterintuitive insights through the prism of a number of provocative contemporary theoretical and interpretive questions. What, they ask, is the relationship between the subversion of social norms and the doing of justice or injustice? Through what narrative and visual devices are some social hierarchies destabilized while others remain hegemonic? How should we understand the sacrifices characters make in the name of justice, and comprehend their failures in achieving it? Asking such questions casts light on the film’s eccentricities and internal contradictions and suggests the possibility of new interpretations of a culturally iconic text. The book examines the context that gave meaning to the film’s representation of race and how debates about family, community, and race are played out and reframed in law. Contributors include Colin Dayan, Thomas L. Dumm, Susan Sage Heinzelman, Linda Ross Meyer, Naomi Mezey, Imani Perry, and Ravit Reichman.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-271-4
    Subjects: Law, Sociology, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Reimagining To Kill a Mockingbird: An Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)
    Martha Merrill Umphrey and Austin Sarat

    The year 2012 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the release ofTo Kill a Mockingbird, the film remake of Harper Lee’s acclaimed novel.¹ In taking note of that milestone, this volume looks at the film, a classic and canonical text in legal scholarship, with fresh eyes. The chapters that follow revisit and examine Atticus, Scout, and Jem Finch, their community, and the events that occur there through the interdisciplinary prism of law and humanities scholarship—work that brings a distinctive interpretive framework to the study of law.

    The film and novel are of course widely available and have taken on...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Temporal Horizons: On the Possibilities of Law and Fatherhood in To Kill a Mockingbird
    (pp. 16-36)
    Austin Sarat and Martha Merrill Umphrey

    To Kill a Mockingbird, the Oscar-winning 1962 movie based on Harper Lee’s novel, is a classic American law film.¹ Its central character, Atticus Finch, an iconic citizen-lawyer in a southern town during the Great Depression, is called on to defend an African American field hand accused of raping a white woman. Indeed some claim that Atticus is popular culture’s leading embodiment of lawyerly virtue. “No real-life lawyer has done more for the self-image or public perception of the legal profession than the hero of …To Kill a Mockingbird,” writes Steven Lubet. “For nearly four decades, the name of Atticus...

  6. CHAPTER TWO I Would Kill for You: Love, Law, and Sacrifice in To Kill a Mockingbird
    (pp. 37-64)
    Linda Ross Meyer

    To Kill a Mockingbird, the film, is now over fifty years old.¹ When I first saw it, around its twentieth anniversary, it seemed quaint, a black-and-white slice of history we had moved well beyond. Atticus Finch’s famous “in our courts, all men are created equal” closing argument registered not as progressive but even as itself regressive, addressed as it was to the white “gentlemen” of the jury, and failing as it did to acknowledge the racism and sexism that mere legal equality simply papered over.² Sure, the movie was brave for its time, portraying the stark injustice in a trumped-up...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Motherless Children Have a Hard Time: Man as Mother in To Kill a Mockingbird
    (pp. 65-80)
    Thomas L. Dumm

    To Kill a Mockingbirdis a film that resists itself. Every temptation toward easy sentimentality and simplistic characterizations of good and evil—even in the representations of the politics of racial segregation and sexuality—is subverted, not just by the carefully rendered dialogue and the narrative, both of which follow closely the main lines of Harper Lee’s novel, but by a structural element that introduces a quasi-tragic element to the film. More so than the novel, the film highlights the isolation of each of the major figures in this tale even as it shows, rather than tells, why and how...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR If That Mockingbird Don’t Sing: Scaffolding, Signifying, and Queering a Classic
    (pp. 81-103)
    Imani Perry

    In the classic African American lullaby “Hush Little Baby” the restless child is promised all kinds of wonderful things if she will simply settle down. The promise of a mockingbird is one among a number of proposed offers. It is a good one. The mockingbird is a beautiful aural fixture of the American landscape. It is the bird with countless songs. It mimics other birds, thereby producing a living sonic collage. Because this repetition is “natural” rather than technologically made, it can be excellent but not identical to the original. Between the cardinal’s whistle and the mockingbird’s copying response there...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE A Ritual of Redemption: Reimagining Community in To Kill a Mockingbird
    (pp. 104-127)

    This essay explores how different depictions of local community are figured and reconfigured in the film version ofTo Kill a Mockingbirdin such a way as to provide a redemptive ritual for reimagining a national community committed to racial equality. In the film, communities of color, class, neighborhood, and family are unraveled and reconstructed through the law; national and historical conflicts overlap, collapse, and are reimagined in a personal narrative and the imaginary space of law. Most notably, the film depicts how the rape trial of Tom Robinson occasions the unraveling of a white solidarity by exposing the cleavages...

  10. CHAPTER SIX “We Don’t Have Mockingbirds in Britain, Do We?”
    (pp. 128-150)
    Susan Sage Heinzelman

    One productive way to examine the hold ofTo Kill a Mockingbirdon the American imagination is to address its place in British culture. Long before globalization rendered the distinction between what was American and what was other increasingly difficult to define, America and Britain had a special relationship through which they produced a mutually constructed social imaginary—call it “transatlanticism.” Both countries share a triangulation with the Caribbean and Africa through the history of slavery and the flow of military and capitalist ideologies. That shared social reality, constructed in part by their history of affiliation and separation, makes America...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Dead Animals
    (pp. 151-171)
    Ravit Reichman

    In its very title,To Kill a Mockingbirdannounces a broad concern with animal life, and, more precisely, with the human relationship to animals.¹ It is not yet a fully realized statement—not yet a command about how to kill or not to kill, nor a description of where or why one might see such killing or how to prevent it. One has to wait to see this relationship articulated, and the enigmatic phrase hangs over the film until Atticus Finch explains to his son, Jem, the proper targets for shooting a gun. Recalling the time when his father had...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Humans, Animals, and Boundary Objects in Maycomb
    (pp. 172-187)
    Colin Dayan

    What is an animal? What is human? What is good? What is evil? It might seem that these questions are easily answered inTo Kill a Mockingbird, even when the bounds are permeable, when such distinctions are most threatened. There is something equivocal in Harper Lee’s assumptions about human and animal, about the role of reason in making us who we are. The easy, comfortable stance granted to those who are elite, hereditarily and historically accepted members of the Maycomb County community and who quite naturally claim it as “home” is not granted to those who live on the southern...

    (pp. 188-188)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 189-197)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 198-198)