Tag Archives: privacy

The House as a Symbol in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”

ToKillAMockingbird

It’s difficult to believe that I have only now gotten around to reading this masterpiece. I’ve seen it performed on stage, seen the film, and actually met Gregory Peck at a dinner reception and discussed the writer’s role in filmmaking with him, but it was my daughter wanting to read this book with me, kind of as a father/daughter mini book club, that finally motivated me to buy a copy.

This book is so rich that it would be easy to write multiple blog posts exploring the many facets. You could obviously approach it from its frank addressing of racism, as an exploration of Southern culture, or as a coming-of-age tale. For my post, I’ve decided to pick one symbol and explore it a little deeper: the house.

In this book, Ms. Lee uses the symbol of the house to represent one’s psyche. As with every person, there are two parts to the psyche: the one which we show to others and the one that is hidden away. To understand how this symbol applies to this story, keep in mind that the inside of a home represents a person’s inner thoughts and feelings, while the outside of the home signifies that part of someone which that person decides to make public and known. For example, in the book, no one knows exactly what happens within the Radley house. We know that Boo suffers from mental illness, so the inside of the house becomes a symbol for the thoughts of someone who is mentally sick.

“You reckon he’s crazy?”

Miss Maudie shook her head. “If he’s not he should be by now. The things that happen to people we never really know. What happens in houses behind closed doors, what secrets—“

(p. 46)

Disturbing a person within their home implies that you are attempting to pry into that person’s private thoughts. When the children are spying on the Radley house and trying to see inside, they are essentially trying to sneak a peek into someone’s psyche and discover the secrets buried deep within that person’s mind.

What Mr. Radley did was his own business. If he wanted to come out, he would. If he wanted to stay inside his own house he had the right to stay inside free from the attentions of inquisitive children, which was a mild term for the likes of us. How would we like it if Atticus barged in on us without knocking, when we were in our rooms at night? We were in effect doing the same thing to Mr. Radley. What Mr. Radley did might seem peculiar to us, but it did not seem peculiar to him. Furthermore, had it ever occurred to us that the civil way to communicate with another being was by the front door instead of a side window? Lastly, we were to stay away from the house until we were invited there, we were not to play a asinine game he had seen us playing or make fun of anybody on this street or in this town—

(p. 49)

Another great example of the inside of a house symbolizing the inner aspects of a person’s psyche is the inside of Mrs. Dubose’s house. Mrs. Dubose suffered from morphine addiction and the inside of her home reflects the inner turmoil and pain associated with drug addiction.

Jem planted his big toe delicately in the center of the rose and pressed it in. Finally he said, “Atticus, it’s all right on the sidewalk but inside it’s—it’s all dark and creepy. There’s shadows and things on the ceiling…”

(p. 105)

Jem and Scout, being allowed entrance into Mrs. Dubose’s house to read Ivanhoe to her as punishment, are exposed to the shadowy realm of her consciousness, where she is haunted by the darkness of her addiction.

At one point in the story, Scout wants to invite Walter Cunningham over to the house for dinner. Aunt Alexandra tells her that she should not do so, that it is OK to be nice to someone, but that does not mean that you should invite that person into your home. Essentially, she is advising Scout to be careful regarding who she allows to know the deeper parts of her thoughts and feelings.

“I didn’t say not to be nice to him. You should be friendly and polite to him, you should be gracious to everybody, dear. But you don’t have to invite him home.”

(p. 224)

There are many other great examples of how houses reflect the psyche’s of those who live there, and if you read this book again, I encourage you to think about how houses symbolize the minds of those who inhabit them.

On a closing note, I’m sure many of you have heard that Harper Lee is getting ready to publish the “sequel” to To Kill a Mockingbird later this year. I for one am looking forward to it and plan to read it once it comes out. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you have a wonderful and inspiring day!!

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“The Loss of Privacy” by Umberto Eco

Image Source: Microsoft

Image Source: Microsoft

This essay is included in Turning Back the Clock: Hot Wars and Media Populism and deals with an issue that has been getting a lot of attention lately: privacy.

Eco begins by discussing boundaries and their importance. He points out that the concept of boundaries applies to humans and animals, and that when someone or something crosses these boundaries and invades our space, or natural inclination is to feel threatened.

Ethology teaches us that every animal recognizes around itself, and its fellows, a bubble of respect, a territorial area within which it feels safe, and that it will see as an adversary whoever steps over that boundary.

(Turning Back the Clock: p. 77)

To define and secure our boundaries, we often erect walls, either physical or emotional. Eco cites examples of walls constructed by governments to create a sort of communal privacy and states that “people have always paid for the communal privacy by accepting the loss of individual privacy.” (ibid: p. 78) I am reminded of the walled and gated communities that were dominant in Miami when I lived there, where people subjected themselves to the scrutiny of the all-mighty Homeowners’ Association for the false sense of security gain by living within the enclosed walls.

It seems as if every week there is news about a computer hacker accessing a system and stealing personal information. This is blown up in the media as a major threat to our privacy. But Eco claims that this is not the biggest threat to our privacy, that online tracking used by corporations is much more insidious and dangerous.

The big problem facing a citizen’s private life is not hackers, which are no more frequent and dangerous than the highwaymen who beset travelling merchants, but cookies and all those other technical marvels that make it possible to collect information about every one of us.

(ibid: p. 79)

So then the million-dollar question is: How did we allow ourselves and our society to get to this point? Eco claims it is because we have become an exhibitionist society.

It seems to me that one of the great tragedies of mass society, of the press, television, and Internet, is the voluntary renunciation of privacy. The extreme expression of this renunciation is, at its pathological limit, exhibitionism. It strikes me as paradoxical that someone has to struggle for the defense of privacy in a society of exhibitionists.

(ibid: p. 82)

It is kind of ironic when you consider this. We love to put ourselves out there for the world, sharing our lives on Facebook and Instagram. Even blogging is a form of exhibitionism. I accept this about myself. I put my thoughts, my ideas, and my reading preferences out there for the world to see. When I was younger, this would have been part of my private world. I would hide in my room and read under the covers. Questionable books my friends and I read were discussed in closed rooms, away from the prying eyes of those who want to market to my tastes or track any subversive books I read. I remember there was a time when the government wanted to collect records from libraries regarding the books that people checked out and the public outcry against this. Now, your reading habits are tracked online. All you have to do is look at a book on Amazon, you don’t even have to purchase it, and immediately ads begin popping up based upon the fact the you just clicked on that one link.

Eco concludes by stating that most of us have come to accept the loss of our privacy and have taken it to the next step. We now believe that the best way to keep our secrets is to just put everything out there. If everyone’s secrets are made public, then ours will not seem that interesting anymore when compared with those of everyone else.

But it’s a vicious cycle. The assault on privacy accustoms everyone to the disappearance of privacy. Already many of us have decided that the best way to keep a secret is to make it public, so people write e-mails or make phone calls in which they say everything openly, certain that no one listening in will find interesting any statement made with no attempt at concealment. Little by little we become exhibitionists, having learned that nothing can be kept confidential anymore and that no behavior is considered scandalous. Those who are attacking our privacy, seeing that the victims themselves consent, will no longer stop at any violation.

(ibid: p. 87)

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