My kids and I saw a live theater production today of one of my favorite books, To Kill a Mockingbird, a novel I tutored to high school students years ago. At one point, I had taken that novel apart in all kinds of ways, knew it backwards and forwards, in and out: mad dog, camellias, serving lemonade in times of stress.
Listening today, for the first time I realized compassion (that thread I’ve returned to, over and over this year) is at the heart of this novel. Tom Robinson, poor Southern black man, is the only person who has compassion for Mayella Ewell, a young woman about as white trash as could be, with a nasty father, too many little siblings and no mother, and scant means all the way around.
Tom Robinson did what Atticus advised; he imagined walking around in another’s skin, not because he desired anything from this woman, but purely from the decency of his own heart. If for no other reason, that’s why we need literature more than ever now: we desperately need that imagination.
Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies, and our lives.
– Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird