To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

12 Jul

Yeah, yeah, I know that To Kill a Mockingbird has been all over the news this last week, but I really wasn’t jumping on the 50th anniversary bandwagon. I’d picked up a copy a few weeks ago (only to find I had a copy on my shelf when I got home!)  I was already mid-book when all the hoopla began because reading Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine made me curious.

The reason it made me curious is that Caitlin, the main character in Mockingbird, is also nicknamed “Scout” because her brother believed that she was much like Jean Louise (AKA “Scout”) in the movie To Kill a Mockingbird. Of course, I have read To Kill a Mockingbird multiple times, both as a child, and then again as an adult, but never as a special education teacher. You see, Caitlin has aspergers syndrome and I wondered if Jean Louise would look like a child with aspergers as well. I just love it when a book leads me to an interesting idea, another book or to researching something intriguing. Thus, I began my investigation–and thoroughly enjoyed a foray through an old favorite in the process.

My conclusion after reading To Kill a Mockingbird is that Jean Louise is pretty obviously a highly gifted kid. She is highly verbal and inquisitive and taught herself to read before she could remember. She is also very honest and sometimes comes across as very legalistic (but then what else would you expect from a lawyer’s daughter?) For example, when Dill starts to cry during the trial because Tom Robinson is being treated so badly by the prosecuting attorney, Jean Louise explains to him that this is just the way lawyers are supposed to be.  She also has a lot of trouble being in a crowd of ladies having tea and needing to act like a lady, but any girl, raised among boys and men would feel out of place and uncomfortable in that situation.  (I know that I would have wanted to escape it!)

Those are the arguments that I could use to show that Jean Louise has aspergers syndrome, but after reading the book, I don’t think so. Her father does teach explicitly about empathy by asking her to put herself in another’s shoes.  And she sometimes seems to be cognitively advanced ahead of her social skills and needs some help managing the protocols, but she catches on very fast and too expertly to the nuances of empathy for me to believe that she might be on the spectrum.  She often understands less fortunate friends and “Boo” Radley better than her older brother and the townspeople.

It was a fun experiment to look at this book through a new lens.  Along the way, I noticed that Atticus (Jean Louise’s father) was a perfect example of how to nurture a gifted child and the first grade teacher was a perfect example of how NOT to nurture a gifted student.  (yikes!) This led me to research a bit into the Dewey teaching system that Jean Louise was subjected to. Did I mention that I just love when a book makes me curious and leads me to learn something new?

To Kill a Mockingbird has mature themes and may not be for the youngest readers of Mockingbird, but for young adult and adult readers, pairing the two books would make for a thought provoking project.  I heartily recommend this book. It is one of those books that I believe everyone should read and discuss.

What do you think? Could Jean Louise have aspergers syndrome? Have you ever read a book and noticed that the character looked like they had a disability?

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