Reading Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" for the First Time (Maybe)

So I’m reading Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) for the first time ever (maybe: I might have read it in high school because we did get assigned books like that, but I’ve seen the film many times, and can’t separate the film story from the book, so I don’t know). It’s a study in bygone diction. Lee uses the word “hain’t”—a Southern dialect noun that means something like “spooky person” (Boo Radley is a “hain’t”)—and gems like this: “Simon made a pile practicing medicine, but in this pursuit he was unhappy lest he be tempted into doing what he knew was not for the glory of God, as the putting on of gold and costly apparel. So Simon, having forgotten his teacher’s dictum on the possession of human chattels, bought three slaves and with their aid established a homestead on the banks of the Alabama River . . . .” [italics mine] (4). When was the last time you heard someone say lest in conversation? I like the book, perhaps least because it’s an American classic, most because of the spunky narrator and the way Lee holds up the flaws of the American South to view, pointing her figure from the insider’s view. The other novel that does that beautifully is Pete Dexter’s Paris Trout (1988), which is a knockout from start to finish, and made me think, Now that’s what’s wrong with the South.

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