To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
published 1960 chapter 27
[Scout Finch, the 8-year-old narrator, has had a turbulent summer, but is now back at school in Maycomb County, Alabama]
Mrs Grace Merriweather had composed an original pageant entitled Maycomb County: Ad Astra per Aspera, and I was to be a ham. She thought it would be adorable if some of the children were costumed to represent the county’s agricultural products: Cecil Jacobs would be dressed up to look like a cow; Agnes Boone would make a lovely butter-bean, another child would be a peanut, and on down the line until Mrs Merriweather’s imagination and the supply of children was exhausted….
My costume was not much of a problem. Mrs Crenshaw, the local seamstress, had as much imagination as Mrs Merriweather. Mrs Crenshaw took some chicken wire and bent it into the shape of a cured ham. This she covered with brown cloth, and painted it to resemble the original. I could duck under and someone would pull the contraption down over my head. It came almost to my knees. Mrs Crenshaw thoughtfully left two peepholes for me. She did a fine job; [my brother] Jem said I looked exactly like a ham with legs. There were several discomforts, though; it was hot, it was a close fit; if my nose itched I couldn’t scratch, and once inside I could not get out of it alone.
The pageant comes at the end of the book, and all this is going to be relevant to the final twist and turn of the story – she can’t see much and she can’t get out of the costume, but the chicken wire will be on the plus side. Scout and Jem are about to come under threat: “thus began our longest journey together.”
It is hard to say anything new about To Kill a Mockingbird. Its iconic status makes it untouchable, and attempts to criticize the book, or its hero, don’t go down well. But, here we go anyway: Jem and Scout walk home from the pageant alone. And this is because their father, Atticus Finch, refused to come and watch her in the school play. Really? One of the finest, bravest most wonderful fathers and heroes in all literature is ‘too tired’ to watch his daughter perform at school? Shame on you Atticus Finch.
Links up with: Breakfast at Tiffany’s, blog entry here – Harper Lee was a close friend of Truman Capote, and it is generally agreed that he appears in To Kill a Mockingbird as Dill. More strangely dressed children in this blog entry.
With thanks to Dinah McLaughlin for the suggestion.
The photograph was made available on Wikimedia Commons by the photographer pinguino k, and the young woman is actually a hotdog. But probably one made of ham.