English prof expresses concern over classic novel 'To Kill a Mockingbird'

He says that Atticus, the book’s well-known lawyer who defends an unjustly accused black man, is not a heroic figure.

A professor in the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of English commented during an interview that Harper Lee’s famous novel "To Kill a Mockingbird" should be handled carefully and contextualized when taught in schools.

A professor at the University of Pittsburgh says the literary classic To Kill a Mockingbird doesn’t address racism well and should be handled with care. 

Geoffrey Glover, a professor in the Department of English, advocated for the use of the popular novel in classrooms to be re-evaluated during an interview with Pittwire.

“The very idea that this novel actually speaks about racism as a complex well-rounded treatment is a bit of a misnomer,” Glover said. “Rather, it approaches racism from one direction—from an external, White outsider mentality. The focus of the novel is zeroed in on either Scout as an innocent character or Atticus, a paragon of moral virtue standing up against injustices.” 

The book moves readers away from the central conflict -- Tom Robinson’s unjust death at the hands of the court -- and toward “a portrait of white courage, even white guilt to a certain extent,” Glover argued. 

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He clarified that he believes the book should still be taught, but only within the proper context. 

Additionally, he recommended teaching it more than once: “Revisiting it would encourage students to actually see their growth in their understanding of racism as a systemic process and their growth in their participation in that system, whether voluntary or not.” 

The novel is an “early attempt of dealing with racism,” Glover said since it frames race as primarily an issue of individual morality. 

"The story also recognizes the interconnectedness of race, class, and gender," Glover added. "The crime that’s investigated is a rape of a White woman of lower class by a Black man. The woman is questionable in her credibility because of her class, and the Black man isn’t believed because of his race. It reflects the story of Emmett Till. It’s not just an issue of race, but also of class and gender."

However, the professor continued, Atticus should no longer be portrayed as a heroic figure. 

“I think we should be de-romanticizing Atticus,” he says, referencing Harper Lee’s second novel "Go Set a Watchman": “He’s more than arguably racist in this second story. That suggests that his actions in the novel may not be motivated by a heroic need to right the wrongs of racial inequality in America. Rather, he just likes the idea of fairness, order and continuity and dislikes the idea of chaos and illegal behavior of all kinds.” 

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Teachers should pair To Kill a Mockingbird with other literary works when presenting it in the classroom, Glover suggested. Authors he recommended include Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison, and Zora Neale Hurston, as well as Octavia Butler, Samira Ahmed, and Chester Himes. 

The conversation surrounding this book comes at a time of deep racial division in America, as Glover pointed out. 

"Just in the past three months, we’re seen [sic] a massive transformation in the kind of social discussion we’re having and the awareness of policing and law enforcement.” 

Campus Reform reached out to Glover for further comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @mariatcopeland