Doctor of Teleocity
- Apr 26, 2003
- Augusta, Maine
I disagree with the reference. Since Atticus doesn't save anyone, To Kill a Mockingbird is hardly a white savior story. His client dies. His daughter saves him at the jailhouse. The sheriff has to talk him out of exposing Boo Radley's role in the death of his kids' drunken assailant.The only reference I can give is what I use when I teach this idea, as it was taught to me in grad school, and from books I read that I can no longer recall titles for. Sorry for that.
Based on the Wiki article, I get why people would call TKAM a white savior book. I don't think the wiki article is using a good definition though. It's playing with a Barthian view that decontextualizes the book from the culture and time in which it was written. This is common in mid 20th century theory, and even now among some critical studies (critical race theory, critical queer theory, etc.) theorists, but is uncommon among actual practicing lit, history, and cultural studies scholars.
What I was getting as it is that the white Savior trope is usually considered negative. It can only though be considered negative when a white Savior is not needed to advance the plot.
Given that in the time period written about a black lawyer or Savior figure would have broken the realistic tone of the book, a white lawyer or Savior is the only option. Therefore it shouldn't be considered a problem. If the book was set in 1993 or 2003 or 2023 I might feel differently. But given that the only realistic lawyer at this point would be a straight white cismale, the WS trope is not really a critique.
Doesn't mean you have to like the book, and maybe I'm just hyper sensitive to this because I get flack from some of the more radical members (a tiny but shrill minority) in my field. But that's my take, the one i use when i teach US History Through Lit or Pivotal Texts or even my HIST survey.
Edit: But dude I love that you're thinking this deeply about lit and culture. Well played from a dude who doesn't often say that.
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There's no white savior, but doesn't make the book historically or thematically flawless. I love the book, but it does have a blaring shortcoming. It paints poor white southerners as ignorant sheep who needed to be brought by baby steps to see the light — or at least need to roll over for the sake of progress.
As you might have noticed, in Lee's eyes, to care about justice - not even to be a leftist - is to be a middle-class professional. But groups like the integrated Southern Tenant Farmers Union did as much as anyone in those days to promote social progress as southern liberal lawyers. (In the movie The Great Debaters, Denzel W. goes to a Farmers Union meeting.)
But the only white farmers we see in To Kill a Mockingbird are Erskine Caldwell-esque characatures: stupid, drunk, raggedy, cruel, and arguably incestuous.