I told people that I had never read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It was a strange confession, given that I was an English language arts teacher for thirty years and avid reader. I felt embarrassed because this novel is typically on a high school reading list. Given that I went to high school in Montana, I assumed I had missed it because I was studying All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren. As a response to this seeming omission to my reading, I added To Kill a Mockingbird to my list of must-reads.
I wasn’t eleven pages in when I realized that I had met these characters before. Scout and Jem and Atticus…I had read the book! I decided to carry on, as I’m sure my readers will attest, it is a classic in the truest sense and an excellent ‘read’. It is simply a joy to reread out favourites along the way.
I had been thinking about red geraniums recently and they DO appear in this novel. “The Ewell family house is falling down around their ears, and yet Mayella cultivates these beautiful, brilliant bright red geraniums in old, chipped slop crocks.” There, amid the brokenness, red geraniums grow. It is always a wonder when beauty/goodness exists in the rugged, broken and dark aspects of humanity.
A character sketch delves into possible symbolism…red geraniums. Click on the link for source.
Among the trash and cast-offs in the Ewell yard, there’s one spot of beauty.
“Against the fence, in a line, were six chipped-enamel slop jars holding brilliant red geraniums, cared for as tenderly as if they belonged to Miss Maudie Atkinson, had Miss Maudie deigned to permit a geranium on her premises. People said they were Mayella Ewell’s.” (17.64)
The geraniums suggest that Mayella desires to be better than her surroundings, to make something bright in her dull world, to aspire to higher things. But whatever Mayella’s hopes and dreams are, she doesn’t get a chance to express them to the reader; she appears only at Tom’s trial. And there, she has to perform a role: the poor innocent white woman attacked by the evil black man, who must be protected by chivalrous white men.
Each year, in early May, my Auntie Eleanor gets her cuttings growing…red and white geraniums, to be blooming just in time for the July first family reunion. They grow out in her porch where the sunshine pours over them, long rows of green leaved wonders. When you enter the porch from outside, the moist green smell of geraniums hits you very suddenly and smacks of feelings of family, home and memory.
Summer brings the edging of the camp kitchen where we congregate, share conversation, laugh, hug and share talents. Red geraniums…love.
Interesting, that as I visited the resting places of my ancestors last summer…Lindsay, Ontario…Hamilton, Ontario…our family’s plots were marked, where tended, by bouquets of red geraniums.