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Reimagining To Kill a Mockingbird

Family, Community, and the Possibility of Equal Justice under Law

edited by Austin Sarat and Martha Merrill Umphrey

Publication Year: 2013

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 many-layered 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.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press


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pp. 1-2

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 3-8

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

The essays in this book were first presented at a conference held at Amherst College on September 23–24, 2011. We are grateful for the generous support provided by Amherst College’s Charles Hamilton Houston Forum on Law and Social Change and by the Dean of the Faculty, Greg Call. ...

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Reimagining To Kill a Mockingbird: An Introduction

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pp. 1-15

The year 2012 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the release of To 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. ...

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Chapter One. Temporal Horizons: On the Possibilities of Law and Fatherhood in To Kill a Mockingbird

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pp. 16-36

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. ...

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Chapter Two. I Would Kill for you: Love, Law, and Sacrifice in To Kill a Mockingbird

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pp. 37-64

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, ...

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Chapter Three. Motherless Children have a Hard Time: Man as Mother in To Kill a Mockingbird

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pp. 65-80

To Kill a Mockingbird is 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, ...

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Chapter Four. If that Mockingbird don’t Sing: Scaffolding, Signifying, and Queering a Classic

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pp. 81-103

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. ...

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Chapter Five. A Ritual of Redemption: Reimagining Community in To Kill a Mockingbird

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pp. 104-127

This essay explores how different depictions of local community are figured and reconfigured in the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird in 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; ...

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Chapter Six: “We don’t have Mockingbirds in Britain, Do we?”

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pp. 128-150

One productive way to examine the hold of To Kill a Mockingbird on 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 ...

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Chapter Seven: Dead Animals

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pp. 151-171

In its very title, To Kill a Mockingbird announces 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. ...

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Chapter Eight: Humans, Animals, and Boundary Objects in Maycomb

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pp. 172-187

What is an animal? What is human? What is good? What is evil? It might seem that these questions are easily answered in To 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. ...


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pp. 188-190


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pp. 189-196

Back Cover

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p. 212-212

E-ISBN-13: 9781613762714
E-ISBN-10: 1613762712
Print-ISBN-13: 9781625340153
Print-ISBN-10: 162534015X

Page Count: 208
Illustrations: 8 illus.
Publication Year: 2013