Art Should Reveal Uncomfortable Truths

To Kill a Mockingbird book cover

by Oletta Branstiter


Should art be created to make us feel comfortable?

The school district in Biloxi, Mississippi recently decided to eliminate To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, from the 8th-grade reading list.

The reason? “Language in the book makes some people uncomfortable.”

Was the complaint based on the historical and contextual use of the word “nigger”? Or was it more insidious? Do the objections reflect the same lack of understanding that led to the banning of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain?

Regarding the removal of Confederate statues, does the actual discomfort lie in being reminded of how far we Americans have come in terms of racial equality? This truth hardly supports the current narrative of rampant racism, as portrayed by athletes “not protesting the flag” by kneeling during the National Anthem. Protesting police brutality at the local police station wouldn’t attract the paparazzi like multi-millionaires “taking a knee” before a broadcast football game.

Talk about artful misdirection. Uncomfortable!

By rejecting art because of superficial awkwardness, we forsake deeper revelations.

Confederate statues are rapidly being hidden from public view.

Portrait of Robert E. Lee

Yes, General Robert E. Lee fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. This truth is uncomfortable and one-dimensional.

Despite financial hardship and an absent father, Lee rose above his adversity and earned an appointment to West Point, where he graduated second in his class in 1829. He served as superintendent of this military academy from 1852-1855.

His unwavering commitment to the state of Virginia motivated his military service to the secessionists.

In a letter to his wife in 1856 he wrote, “In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil in any Country,” adding that slavery was “a greater evil to the white man than to the black race.”  Yet, Lee himself was a typical slave-owner that treated his slaves inhumanely, as described by his order to have his recaptured slaves whipped mercilessly.

Lee objected to erecting Confederate monuments, writing in 1869 that it would be wiser “not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife.”

History, like present life, is often uncomfortable.

Art, in sculpture and literature, should portray a three-dimensional image of truth. Lee, like those made uncomfortable today by historical truth, preferred to hide the awkward failures of our nation’s history.

Many of the Confederate statues were raised during the illegal Jim Crow era and subsequent Civil Rights efforts, by Southern Democrats who wanted to rub the noses of African Americans in systemic racism.

By hiding this “art”, Progressives hope to banish the lessons of their own prejudices.

What do academics hope to obscure by shielding students from the discomfort of To Kill a Mockingbird? Could it be that revealing the great strides of racial harmony since the historical setting of Harper Lee’s book serves too well in refuting today’s politically correct narrative? Perhaps, instead of discovering other, deeper truths in the book, the Mississippi school district prefers to emphasize the racist components.

This classic novel is about prejudices of all types, especially the inherent discrimination found in fallen man.

It was the mysterious Boo Radley who suffered the most suspicion and contempt by the main characters in Harper Lee’s book.  Boo represents a segment of society we are only now trying to understand and accept with compassion.

Mental and emotional differences and handicaps have been misunderstood and punished for thousands of years.

The thoughtful, honest, mysterious way that Harper Lee reveals the prejudices of the day are uncomfortable and valuable.

Tom, the black man accused of rape, was an easy target of abuse because of his perceived racial and physical “handicaps”. Boo’s intellectual handicap made him a target of abuse based on the same ignorant and despotic nature of man, consistently tempted to marginalize the “other”.

Let’s not be so smug in the evolution of our own enlightenment that we refuse to seek out remaining stubborn areas of prejudice.

Let the Lees of history remain. Our discomfort may reveal our current failings that we must acknowledge and overcome.

 

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