02/10/04 — Mockingbird panel

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Mockingbird panel

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on February 10, 2004 2:01 PM

Organizers of "Wayne County Reads" hoped to get people reading and then talking about what they read.

So far so good. Around 80 people came to Wayne Community College Monday night for the panel discussion of "To Kill A Mockingbird," the first selection of the countywide reading project.

Each of the panelists had personal connections to Harper Lee's 1960 novel.

For Bill Brettmann, director of the Foundation of Wayne Community College's arts and humanities program, the book "really takes me back to my childhood ... in both pleasant and unpleasant ways," he said.

Brettmann grew up in central Alabama, about 150 miles from Miss Lee's hometown of Monroeville. At the time, society was still sharply divided down lines of color and class, he said.

Both his daughters read the book in high school, one in Ohio and one in North Carolina, he said, adding he's gratified that the book is not seen as a Southern novel but one of the great American novels.

Goldsboro lawyer Geoff Hulse has always identified with the Finch children because his father, Herbert Hulse, was a criminal lawyer here.

"It harkens me back to a time when my father defended people, many of whom were charged purely because they were black, and the person making the charges was white," Hulse said.

The book and the movie adaptation encouraged Hulse to pursue a career in law, and now he tries to identify with Atticus Finch, he said.

One of the lessons of the book is that the justice system is only as good as the people in it, he said. One person, even an Atticus Finch, cannot change the system, but he can give it his all.

A movie poster "hangs in my office as a daily reminder to do the right thing," he said.

Liz Meador, an English instructor at Wayne Community College, first read the book in high school and has re-read it since then.

Part of what makes "To Kill A Mockingbird" a great novel, she said, is how it has relevance to people's lives over time. Adults understand the book in different ways than teen-agers might, she said.

The book is a capsule of a time when women had far fewer choices than they do now, she continued. Scout Finch complains in one section about "the pink cotton walls" closing in on her, forcing her into "the world of women."

Meador cited examples from the book where Miss Lee blurred sexual distinctions, perhaps arguing gender was not as important as a person's desire to better oneself.

Bennis Blue, an assistant professor of English at Mount Olive College, has taught the novel several places and to different levels of students.

She shared some critiques that were done by her students, some of whom are black. Some have questioned whether the book was relevant today, while others are offended by the use of "the N-word," she said.

"When I was growing up, there were two things that constituted fighting words" -- talking about someone's parents and the N-word, she said.

But the book is a useful starting point to talk about racial differences, segregation and how things have changed, she added.

"Wayne County Reads" is a collaborative effort of the Wayne County Public Library System, Wayne County public schools, Wayne Community College and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.