Monday, November 10, 2014



It's a sin to kill a mockingbird

Posted: 08 Nov 2014 06:53 PM PST

"It's a sin to kill a mockingbird." A well-respected veteran in the palm oil industry looked puzzled when I mentioned this quote, a few days ago. We were having lunch at a Japanese restaurant, his favourite, when I asked if he had read a book titled 'To Kill A Mockingbird' by American author Harper Lee.

"What is a mockingbird? How do you spell it?" he asked.

I explained to him that a mockingbird is a creature that sings beautifully for the benefit of others and never harm anyone.

Atticus said to Jem one day, "I'd rather you shot at tin cans in the backyard, but I know you'll go after birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit them ... but remember, it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."

That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something. And I asked Miss Maudie about it. "Your father's right," she said. "Mockingbirds don't do one thing except make music for us to enjoy.

"They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corn cribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us.

"That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."

These lines from Chapter 10 are the source of the novel's title; the idea of "mockingbirds" as innocent people who are frequently misunderstood, discriminated and bullied out of jealousy, prejudice, racism, bigotry, arrogant assumptions and ignorance. 

Anyone who tries to hurt "mockingbirds" is actually committing a sin because these kind-hearted souls have done no harm but make the world a better place for those around them.

This novel is set out in the 1930s at a small southern state of USA, when the main form of prejudice was racism. The author lays down the moral of her story with the main characters, Atticus Finch and his young daughter Scout and teenage son, Jem. 
In this novel Scout and Jem learnt from their father to be courageous in protecting the innocent, kind-hearted souls metaphored as "mockingbirds". There are two in this novel. 

The first is Tom Robinson, a black man who did nothing to deserve trouble except try to help a young girl who seemed desperately lonely and seemed in need of his help. In an ironic exchange for that innocent act of kindness, he was wrongly accused of rape. 

The entire premise of false allegations against Tom and Atticus's decision to defend him is about this theme of killing mockingbirds. It is a lawyer's job to defend his client no matter what; it is even more important when that client is unequivocally innocent but being prosecuted simply because he is black. 

It is a sin to turn a blind eye on bullying and hateful racism. It is a sin to kill a mockingbird. Atticus steadfastly defended Tom. He argued that if the jury succumbed to popular sentiment and pronounced Tom as guilty, the black man's death can be equated to "the senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters and children." 
The other mockingbird is Boo Radley. As the years go by, Scout finally understood humanity when she asked her father that in making fun of reclusive Boo Radley, just because he is different from others, would be "sort of like shooting at a mockingbird." 

Like Tom, Boo had never done any harm but acted with a good heart to others, especially the Finch children. 

A recluse who rarely sets foot outside his house, Boo was a haunting mystery that tugs at the wild imagination of Jem, Scout, and Dill. An unlikely symbol of goodness shrouded in initial creepiness, Boo secretly left little gifts for them in a knot-hole of a tree trunk. A painfully shy man, Boo's innocence and kind-hearted acts were constantly overwhelmed by prejudiced half-truths inculcated by ignorant folks.

As Scout learnt how easy it is for many to misunderstand the reclusive Boo, she repays his kindness by protecting him from prejudice. 
In today's context, the mockingbird is the palm oil industry. The businessman seated across the lunch table asked ... so, when the uninformed public chant along with the critics in condemning palm oil can be likened to ignorant children killing the mockingbird?

I nodded and he blinked despairingly. An air of solemnity descend upon us. We drank our green tea in silence.