0

Harriet The Spy/To Kill A Mockingbird

Today we discuss this marvelous New Yorker article.          

 

Vanessa:

      let me start out with a very academic question: have you seen either the Harriet the Spy or the To Kill A Mockingbird movies?











           

Terry:






Wait, there’s a Harriet the Spy movie?! <– that should answer your question on that one




But TKAM is like SUCH a good movie UGH it’s so good.




(

 

            Vanessa:

So I confess: I love these books and everything. And although I like the TKAM movie OK I haven’t seen it since the 8th grade and I don’t have a super clear memory of it but I have SUCH GUILTY PLEASURE for Harriet’s movie




 even though objectively it’s pretty terrible




. It stars Rosie O Donnel as O




Golly











 

            Terry:

WHAT!?!




WHAT. Did Rosie finance the movie? Because that wouldn’t surprise me











           

Vanessa:

I have no idea











 

            Terry:

a sequel called “Harriet the Spy: Blog Wars”   IMAGINE A VERY DISTRESSED FACE D:











 

Vanessa:

 

OH NO THAT IS NOT ACCEPTABLE

 

 






https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pV1YuMsPO88











 

            Terry:

I just… the contemporizing of Harriet the Spy makes me feel weird.











           

Vanessa:

i am having The Feels watching this trailer











           

Terry:

She pronounces “Golly” as “Goe-lee”?! Huh











            Vanessa:

how do you pronounce it?




i would say it like gee golly











           

Terry:

I thought “Golly” like….golly gee




Oh my god we ARE the same person











 

Vanessa:

 

we really are.




OK so. Why did you want to discuss this article, o’ my lovely doppelgänger?











            Terry:

I feel like they made it very slapsticky and I don’t think of the book as slapsticky. HOWEVER I have not read the book since…..forever. I hoped to reread it before today but did not.






 

Okay, the article.




Obviously BRILLIANT and I even liked her part about how they dress up as “foodstuff”. I have a few parts starred and one question mark. 











            Vanessa:

yeah the book is not super slapsticky and Golly is not as…gentle as she is.




what do you have starred











           

Terry:

Right?!? I think part of the appeal of the book is that it is kind of… I can’t think of the word. “real”   ugh   “gritty” ugh   I’ll come back to this thought.











            Terry:

Okay the part(s) I have starred are: “the idea that existing in the world often requires the assumption of costumes, the displaying of an inauthentic self, and even lying..The idea that survival requires impersonation, and that artifice is sometimes necessary, is especially charged for girls who are gender noncomforming”











            Vanessa:

the author of the new yorker piece uses a great phrase: “contemptuous of frailty” which i think sums up the tone.











            Terry:

This just gave me many personal feels because I have a lot of awkwardness around, well clothing and clothing shopping




(Ahhhh “contemptuous of frailty” yessssssssssssssssss)




And while that sounds shallow I mean it as both that “ugh, what girls are supposed to wear” and “what is socially acceptable” and “but I don’t feel comfortable in that” and body issues and also living in Southern California and so many things.











            Vanessa:

Oh yeah me too. I was really interested that she referenced Gilligan and her work about girls–in my senior study I looked a lot at girls losing their voice in adolescence and it seems like the article is pointing out a way in which that is true even for younger girls as they are learning to costume up.











            Terry:

But it also comes down to identity and who am I really and all that and so I literally have panic attacks when I have to shop for clothes. Like, I’m going to die panic attacks and there are many tears and “I have to go to bed now” feelings.




YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS we should include links to stuff that is relevant to our discussion because I like ASSEMBLAGE-style of presenting information











           

And I think in light of this story our discussion is VERY IMPORTANThttp://jezebel.com/young-girl-leaves-school-after-shes-chastised-for-dres-1551053672







            
Young Girl Leaves School After She’s Chastised for Dressing Like a Boy 
jezebel.comAn eight-year-old girl’s grandparents removed her from her Christian elementary school in Virginia after administrators said her hair was too short and her clothes too boyish, explaining that her overall appearance was not in keeping with the school’s “biblical standards.”















            Vanessa:

can you explain more about that clothes=identity?











            Terry:

Oh man I…I think so. Um. Or can I? Let me think.











            Vanessa:

YES i saw that. It’s amazing that 50-60 years ago women were writing books about “tomboys” and now we are kicking out girls who dress like Scout and Harriet











            Terry:

I think part of it happened when I moved from Michigan, where I was just a regular ol’ student and kid, and then I moved to California




(YES. Bitch Magazine recently had a good link to finding feminist stories for young women and girls and it was all about “the character can’t just be ‘spunky’ I’ll try to find it)




Okay, so, it was like moving to an alien planet and I was completely knocked out by how difficult the transition was and how out of place I was and how ODD I was seen as (I was ten, by the way)











           

And I think I never got over that..?











            Vanessa:

that makes sense to me. better move somewhere else (VERMONT). I have always lived in the same place–at least since the age of six months–but I feel the same way and always have.




On the first day of fourth grade I wore a pink flowered jumpsuit with lace. Everyone else wore jeans and tee shirts.











            Terry:

And so now when I shop for clothes (I mean, like, it’s not like I dress up) it’s so charged. And you know gender roles/rules and sexuality expressed via clothing and all that stuff is just all mixed in











            Vanessa:

Yes.




I think also Scout and Harriet feel like they have the right to dress as “tomboys”











            Terry:

When I watched “Singles” again (UGH ANOTHER GOOD MOOOVIE) I was so blown away by how MODEST the female characters’ clothing was.




And not in a creepy religious “WOMEN SHOULD DRESS MODESTLY” but more like “Oh, you are more than your body/skin exposure. You are a thinking, acting human being.”











            Vanessa:

Yes. As a fat/short person I have always felt like other people can just…put on clothes, and they will look fine and like their bodies belong.











            Terry:

YES. And I feel like they took the iconic Harriet image and made her into little tween star with pretty hair











            Vanessa:

Yeah I definitely feel like Harriet did not look like a tween star











            Terry:

PINK FLOWERED JUMPSUIT.











            Vanessa:

WITH LACE











            Terry:

On my first day of high school I wore a white dress with pantyhose and slingback, low-heeled pumps (the color of pantyhose). I looked like a secretary.




And doesn’t Harriet have glasses? It’s funny how much of how I think of that book is directly affected by the (original?) cover.











            Vanessa:

do we think part of the reason why Harriet/Scout are so endearing is that in part it seems that they just don’t give a shit? Like they can rock the jeans and the lack of lace. But on the other hand, in some ways both books turn on their characters caring about others. I am also curious about how watchful both girls are. The idea of girls especially having to carefully watch the world around them so that they know to behave is so underrated in pop culture but I think it happens a lot…but these girls aren’t watching to fit in.











            Terry:

YES YES YES. Holmes says that too: “The lesson that they themselves may sometimes have to hid makes them more aware that everyone has secrets, and everyone has a complex inner life…[Harriet gains a] newly discovered capacity for empathy.”




So would we argue this is a good or bad thing? As in, they learn to be watchful because to not conform is dangerous/deadly, and, every good girl needs to learn how to EMPATHIZE WITH OTHERS.











            Vanessa:

think what is interesting about these girls is that they do the same thing most girls do (i think most girls are watchful) but for a different purpose and/or with a different outcome




they aren’t doing it to fit in. Scout is watching so she can make sense of wtf is happening and see the rot in her town. Harriet is watching so she can write it all down.











            Terry:

They are not wholeheartedly embracing the act of Being A Girl; they are experimenting with a role and observing how others react to them/to others who are conventionally appropriate.











    Vanessa:

well said.




also i love how CURIOUS both girls are




they remind me a little bit–well, she reminds me of them–of Flavia de Luce, in Alan Bradley’s novels











            Terry:

Yes. Is their curiosity just part of their natural selves? Or are they curious because they have already learned they are considered odd? How aware ARE they of their own oddness, actually? Hmmm











            Vanessa:

GOOD QUESTION




with harriet at least I think maybe she wasn’t super aware of it until her notebook was found











           

Okay I do not know that reference….MUST DISCOVER




.

 

Yes, I think Harriet is more “everyone else is weird; I’m just me” and I think Scout is often TOLD “you are weird; stop it”. Well, by her community, if not her immediate family.











            Vanessa:

definitely her community tells Scout all the time that she is weird. Or a troublemaker.




that’s why she and Boo hit it off in part–weird watchers











            Terry:

OH I AM GLAD YOU BROUGHT BOO UP…




So here is the part of the article where I put a question mark:




The idea that Boo is “Scout’s ‘projected double’, a representative of her rebellion against conventional ways of living….that it’s through Boo–who lives quietly and apart from Maycomb society–that Scout ‘obtains ideas about gender subversions'”.











           

I have NEVER thought about this, actually. But I am not sure I agree











            Vanessa

It doesn’t ring true to me exactly/




First of all, HOW does Boo give Scout ideas about gender subversions?











            Terry:

Exactly. I don’t know how he subverts his gender/role/expectations. In fact, isn’t it “allowable” for a man to live alone in a house his whole life? It’s eccentric, but it’s not some kind of wholesale “subversion”. Whereas if a woman lives alone her whole life, she is considered, well, a witch!











           

A man can reject the role of family provider/father and be considered an independent (if odd) thinker/fellow, but a woman who rejects the role of homemaker/mother is seen as somehow deformed, almost literally.











            Vanessa:

Yes. I mean I assume there would be nasty homophobic rumors about Boo




But not the way there would be if a woman decides she doesn’t want children and would rather live along with her cats











            Terry:

That his family turned him into “something unnatural”






 

Right right right EXACTLY











            Vanessa:

So I think Boo is an interesting EXAMPLE to Scout of what it can be to live differently











            Terry:

Boo may model for Scout the repercussions of subverting the community’s ideas of what adult life is supposed to contain (marriage, family)











            Vanessa

LIKE GOLLY IS TO HARRIET











            Terry:

I don’t know that I would argue Boo *is* a good role model/”projected double” for Scout




Ahhhhh in the article she argues about Harrison Withers as Harriet’s “projected double” rather than Golly, right?











            Vanessa:

I don’t think I would argue that either, just that he is an example




Of someone who has rejected what she is expected to do 




and Golly in some ways it seems to be is an example for Harriet of someone living very differently











            Terry:

Yes and Boo is considered a real creep by MOST of the town for it, too, though. Hmmm











            Vanessa

But aren’t Scout/Atticus/Jem kind of considered…off by many in the town as well?











            Terry

Holmes argues that Harrison Withers is Harriet’s “projected double” and not Golly, which is interesting











            Vanessa:

Hmmmmm




well, maybe because she watches Withers rather than interacting with him the way she does Golly?











            Terry:

Probably Jem is going to be “okay” (a “good man”) because he has his dad to guide him, but Scout is not going to be okay because there is no good womanly role model to guide her (and that’s where Atticus is seen as being “off” because he is not finding A Good Wife to be a Good Mother to Scout and teach her traditional feminine ways)











            Vanessa:

Right. I think The Town assumes that Atticus can’t guide Scout.






the contrast between parents in the books is pretty interesting











            Terry:

Hmmmmmm. That idea (watching versus actually interacting) is interesting.






Yesss




. Ugh I can’t find the section I thought I highlighted about their families











            Terry:

!




Okay because I am overeager I found the part in the article about the similarities in the girls’ families: “Like Scout, Harriet has an absent–in her case, uninvolved–mother; comes from an economically privileged family”.











            In

real life, both authors were born in the South and relocated to NYC; both were daughters of “successful, widely respected attorney[s]” and Fitzhugh had a stepmother and rarely saw her mother who “suffered from mental illness”. Also, one biographer said Fitzhugh felt “utter loneliness” which…is interesting.











            Vanessa

YES thank you











            Terry

 

But also Fitzhugh may have been gay. I dunno if anyone ever said that about Lee?











            Vanessa

Is Harriet’s dad a lawyer too?




I dunno. Lee is still alive, we could ask her











            Terry

Can you imagine. Would she even answer the door??!?




(I don’t see anything about Harriet’s dad in the article…hmmm)




And I can’t even find that answer online. Hmm.











            Vanessa:

probably she’d go all Boo on us




. In the books tho–Golly is clearly Harriet’s substitute mom, yeah?




and Scout has the “help” as well but you never get the sense, that I remember, of it being as close a relationship. perhaps because she has Atticus, World




s Greatest Book Dad











            Terry

Oh yes I think Golly is her substitute mom, although Holmes says both girls “have complicated, though loving, relationships with their families’ domestic servants” which are probably even more important..?




Maybe? As in, they get some motherly affection and guidance, but, in the larger society, their “domestic servants” are invisible.











            Vanessa

Yes. Possibly truer for Scout











            Terry

So how much will the girls end up valuing their “domestic servants” when the larger society deems them invisible.











            Vanessa

It’s interesting too that both their “domestic servants” are kind of hard edged, IIRC











            Terry

Yes for sure Scout.




Well but Golly is her former nanny, so that is important. 




I mean, Harriet’s nanny




. And I think class is important too. I mean, how much eccentricity will these girls get away with because they come from “established”/wealthy families?




More than others, no?











            Vanessa:

yes but am i totally misremembering that Golly is a little hard edged? Like she is nontraditionally nurturing











            Terry:

Noooo Golly is DEFINITELY hard edged!!! Yes yes yes











            Vanessa

so, for that matter, is Atticus. both girls are being molded by people who are nontraditionally nurturing. Maybe that makes them more watchful?











            Terry

Hmmmm. What IS it that makes them so watchful? Harriet obviously embraces her role as a writer. Scout I think is just curious? Is allowed to be curious? Because Atticus answers any questions she might come up with?




The NY article I think argues they’re watchful because they are trying to figure out how to live in a world where they’re non-conformists











            Vanessa

she has room/permission?




Yes definitely they are trying to learn how to live as non conformists. 




I just think it’s interesting that their watching comes with a different purpose than many girls. Scout has this wonderful dad who gives her all this space to question things.











            Terry:

Yes yes exactly: permission. He encourages her questioning nature. As a parent and perhaps as a lawyer. I mean, he draws on his own life as a lawyer to parent her, and thus encourages her to ask questions and prod for answers









.

            Vanessa

and similarly, Harriet has Golly











            Terry

She does, but doesn’t Golly move away or something for a chunk of the book..? I feel bad I don’t remember the details better.











            Vanessa

She is there for Harriet’s formative years and then she and her bf take Harriet out and the parents get home early and I think are about to fire her when it turns out she is going to go and get married so she leaves.




She comes back to visit when harriet’s notebook is fine and harriet is Super Sad.











            Terry

I’m thinking of the line where Holmes says a biographer of Fitzhugh called Fitzhugh, or Fitzhugh’s childhood, utterly lonely (“describes the utter loneliness that Fitzhugh felt as a child”)




Right so Harriet is a little bit more left alone than Scout, no? Scout certainly has a mother figure at home and the entire neighborhood to watch over her, for better and for worse, of course. Harriet is more of an outsider to her own community, I thiiiiink











            Vanessa

I think you’re right. Well, their communities are very very different, yes?











            Terry

Absolutely yes. Well and the eras, no? 1930s Alabama and 1960s Upper East Side?











            Vanessa

yes–so of course Harriet has less of that kind of always-watching community











            Vanessa

So is that better for her or “worse”? Or, flip the question around, will Harriet end up more likely to be true to herself as an outsider? Will Scout capitulate to more traditional gestures (school dances, maybe college, if not marriage and family)











            Vanessa

i wonder too if it’s partly the ages. we see Scout really young right? like six? but Harriet as a tween, when her personality it as least a little more fixed. I would guess if one of them is going to stay true it would be her.




although what Scout witnessed was also worse. And maybe it will be this kind of formative event that is kind of always in the back of her head, even if she barely remembers it later.











            Terry

It’s interesting that in the beginning Holmes says “each book argues for authentic expressing in favor of fealty to convention” but at the end of the article she says “The lesson that they themselves may sometimes have to hide…” [makes them more empathetic to others]











            Vanessa

yeah. It seems like she was trying to get at the balance between “authentic expression” and hiding to fit in




. the tension, that’s a better word











            Terry

such a hard question to answer, I guess–to try and suppose what a character in a book will be like twenty years later. I mean, it could even be argued Scout would, later in life, feel like her childhood was this whole blur (with terrible moments), but not necessarily formative. She might be more empathetic in the future, BUT, it’s not like she becomes Boo’s friend and champion. She simply recognizes the power of empathy. Is that enough?











            Vanessa

at six, maybe? i sort of think that the whole thing with the trial is what will stick in her head–like she got a clearer example than most/many people do of, um, i want to just say evil.











            Terry:

Yes, tension. I still feel that Harriet will remain an outsider. Scout I’m not so sure about; but yes, their ages make a huge difference, as do their milieu. (Or does it? Are things [i.e. expectations/gender role expectations] soooo much better for girls these days? That’s a whole other discussion! Ha).











           

Yes, evil, for sure. 




And yes, Harriet’s “life lesson[s]” have nothing to do with race or social injustice or class differences, either, too.











           

Vanessa

maybe not soooooo much better these days…but better in the 60s than the 30s











           

yes exactly. Harriet learns about the power of her own words




Scout learns about the power of other people




s ideas











            Terry

Scout meets many people who are hiding secrets one way or another and finding a way to live IN their society while living a separate life behind closed doors (for better and for worse). What lesson will she get from that..? A good one (it’s possible to conform a little bit on the outside to just get along with people but you can have your own life [but behind closed doors]). Harriet learns that her own secret life can be used against her..? Or, that it will be okay if her secrets get out because in a way she gets rewarded for her observational skills? Hmmm











            Terry:

I meant that as a question: is Scout getting a good lesson from these people living double lives?











            Vanessa

I think Harriet learns that her words have a lot of power and that it’s important to keep them hidden if she is being totally honest. remember what Golly says–you are going to have to do two things and you don’t like either one. Apologize, and lie.











            Terry

Ahhhh yes. So, “keep it to yourself”. Is that a powerful lesson or a bad one? Hmmm











            Vanessa

Hmm. I think Scout learns that it isn’t always safe to be honest in the world.











            Terry

Well I guess it means both girls sort of learn (Harriet more explicitly than Scout, because Scout has other things going on) that there is a surface life and a “real” life and sometimes you have to sort of play along by surface rules BUT you can also have a “real” life.











            Vanessa

Hmm indeed. I don’t know! I think in some ways it’s a lesson in knowing the rules 




or, The Rules.











            Terry

Ugh, THE RULES.




Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr











            Vanessa

I know I fucking hate The Rules.




but I think that is what the girls learn.











            Terry

So is that a useful lesson in the end, though? Here are the guidelines for getting along with general society, which will be helpful to you; but you can have an authentic self… if you keep it on the DOWNLOW




And maybe at least Scout learns that it means OTHER people, who she has rejected/made fun of, may have an authentic self it is worth getting to know. For her to Be Seen by others, she will have to See others.




I really have to reread Harriet the Spy because I’m starting to feel badly for her that she’s still struggling











            Vanessa

I think Harriet is OK. She’s a journalist who does great work publicly and writes a snarky anonymous blog.











            Terry

OH EM GEE I was just thinking, after rereading about that STUPID “HARRIET THE BLOG WARS” MADE FOR TV MOVIE BLECGH that actually Harriet WOULD PROBABLY WRITE FOR THE TOAST and be very happy











           

Vanessa

MALLORY ORTBERG IS REALLY HARRIET











           

Terry

MIND BLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWN











            Vanessa

SHE THOUGHT HER SECRET WAS SAFE




. SHE WAS WRONG











            Terry

NOW WE HAVE THE POWER




. THE POWER OF KNOWING HER TRUE IDENTITY











            Vanessa

BLACKMAIL. 




LET US WRITE FOR THE TOAST OR WE WILL REVEAL YOU











    Terry:         

If I even think about sitting down to write something for the Toast my hands curl up into frozen little gnarled stumps because that is too much











           

I want Matt Lubchansky to illustrate my hands turning into little frozen gnarled stumps pathetically banging on the keyboard











            Vanessa

the toast is a beautiful thing.











           

Terry

A pure and wholly good thing.




Okay one more question about TKAM and HTS: are they good books for girls to read?











           

Vanessa

UM YES




. TKAM in particular is, I would argue, in contention for Great American Novel.




in it’s examination of race and culpability




. and Atticus Finch is one of the great heroes











            Terry:

Hmmmmmm. You have read this, no? http://the-toast.net/2013/09/09/jaya-catches-up-roll-of-thunder/







            
Jaya Catches Up: Roll of Thunder and To Kill a Mockingbird 
the-toast.netJaya catches up on the classic YA novels she never read, with “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” as the current installment.
















   

            
BUT I think it is important to point out that it’s a story on race and culpability told through the eyes of a white girl




A white rich girl




. Well, “well off”











            Vanessa

i agree




and i would teach it alongside RoT which i think is ALSO in contention











            Terry

OKAY I WILL ALLOW THAT











            Vanessa

OH THANKS. 




and Harriet is just…wonderful




. I might read that with From the Mixed Up Files




. I feel Claudia and Harriet would have a lot to say to one another











    Terry

SO, TKAM and HTS are good books for girls to read, but, TKAM needs to have some discussion about its POV etc.











           

And this makes me think of Harriet/girls today who would read Harriet: “When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part. “











           

From this article http://www.rif.org/us/literacy-resources/multicultural/mirrors-windows-and-sliding-glass-doors.htm





Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors 
www.rif.orgBooks are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting condit…














           

Vanessa

Yes. And would be best read alongside Roll of Thunder I think




, ideally.











            Terry






Who do we see about making that A Law?











            Vanessa

Obama if he can squeeze us in











           

That’s all folks! Let us know if there is something we ought to discuss.

Advertisements