mockingbird chapter 44


School started. Every day we had to pass by the Radley Place again. Jem was in the seventh grade and went to high school; I was now in the third grade, and our routines were different. I only walked to school with Jem in the mornings and saw him at mealtimes. After school, he went out for football, and most afternoons he was seldom home before dark.

I wasn’t afraid of The Radley Place though it was no less gloomy. We could still see Mr. Nathan Radley when he walked to and from town on a clear day; Boo wasn’t carried out yet, so he was there, inside the house. When I passed by the old place, I sometimes felt sorry for what we had done to him. I thought that it had been an agony to Arthur Radley when we were peeping through his shutters, delivering greetings on the end of a fishing-pole, walking in his yard at night.

But at the same time I remembered. Two Indian-head pennies, chewing gum, soap dolls, a rusty medal, a broken watch and chain. I stopped and looked at the tree one afternoon: the cement patch was turning yellow.

I still looked for him each time I went by. In my imagination, I saw him as I was passing by: he was sitting in the swing and I was saying, «Hidy do, Mr. Arthur.» And he was saying, «Evening, Jean Louise, right pretty weather we’re having, isn’t it?» But I knew it was just fantasy; we would never see him.

So many things had happened to us, Boo Radley was the least of our fears. Atticus said he didn’t see how anything else could happen, that after some time passed, people would forget Tom Robinson’s case.

Perhaps Atticus was right, but the events of the summer hung over us like smoke in a closed room. I was under the impression that the adults in Maycomb explained to their children that a parent like Atticus was not our fault, so their children must be nice to us in spite of him. As a result, we had to hold our heads high and be a gentleman and a lady. But one thing I could never understand: in spite of Atticus’s shortcomings as a parent, people re-elected him to the state legislature that year, as usual, without opposition. I decided that people were just strange, and never thought about them.

But one day in school I had to think about them again. It was during a Current Events period. The idea of that practice was that each child told some newspaper article to the class. This practice was to help children have good posture, choose right words, strengthen their memory. After standing alone in front of other children, a child was more than ever eager to return to the Group.

The idea was deep, but as usual, in Maycomb it didn’t work very well. In the first place, few rural children could get newspapers, so most of Current Events work was done by the town children, and the bus children were sure that the town children got all the attention anyway.

Few of the children knew what a Current Event was. Little Chuck Little, a hundred years old in his knowledge of cows and their habits, was halfway through his clip story when Miss Gates stopped him: «Charles, that is not a current event. That is an advertisement.»

But Cecil Jacobs knew what a Current Event was. When his turn came, he went to the front of the room and began, «Old Hitler-»

«Adolf Hitler, Cecil,» said Miss Gates. «You should never begin with Old anybody.»

«Yes ma’am,» he said. «Old Adolf Hitler has been after the Jews and he’s putting’ ’em in prisons and he’s taking away all their property and he doesn’t let ’em out of the country and he’s washing’ all the idiots and-»

«Washing the idiots?»

«Yes ma’am, Miss Gates, I reckon they don’t have sense enough to wash themselves, I don’t reckon an idiot could keep his self-clean. Well anyway, Hitler’s started a program to gather up all the half-Jews too and he wants to register ’em in case they want to make him any trouble and I think this is a bad thing and that’s my current event.»

«Very good, Cecil,» said Miss Gates.

A hand went up in the back of the room. «How can Hitler just put a lot of folks in a pen like that? The government can stop him.»

«Hitler is the government,» said Miss Gates. She wanted to make education dynamic, so she went to the blackboard and printed DEMOCRACY in large letters. «Democracy,» she said. «Does anybody have a definition?»

«Us,» somebody said.

I remembered an old campaign slogan Atticus had once told me about and raised my hand.

«What do you think it means, Jean Louise?»

«Equal rights for all, special privileges for none,» I quoted.

«Very good, Jean Louise, very good,» Miss Gates smiled. In front of DEMOCRACY, she printed WE ARE A. «Now class, say it all together, ‘We are a democracy.'»

We said it. Miss Gates continued, «The difference between America and Germany is that we are a democracy and Germany is a dictatorship. We don’t believe in persecuting anybody. There are no better people in the world than the Jews, and it’s a mystery to me why Hitler doesn’t think so.»

Someone in the middle of the room said, «Why don’t they like the Jews, you reckon, Miss Gates?»

«I don’t know, Henry. They contribute to every society they live in, and most of all, they are a deeply religious people. Hitler’s trying to do away with religion, so maybe he doesn’t like them for that reason.»

Cecil spoke up. «Well I don’t know for certain,» he said, «they say that they change money or somethin’, but that ain’t no reason to persecute ’em. They’re white, ain’t they?»

Miss Gates said, «When you get to high school, Cecil, you’ll learn that the Jews have been persecuted since the beginning of history, even driven out of their own country. It’s one of the most tragic stories in history. Time for arithmetic, children.»

I had never liked arithmetic, so I spent the period looking out the window, thinking. Something was wrong. Miss Gates said that Hitler was doing awful things. She got really red in the face about it, but I remembered that when she was coming out of the courthouse the night of Tom Robinson’s trial, she said to Miss Stephanie Crawford, «It’s time somebody taught ’em a lesson, they’re gettin’ way above themselves, an’ the next thing they think they can do is marry us.» How can you hate Hitler so much an’ then turn around and be ugly about folk’s right at home? I couldn’t understand that.


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