16 July 2013

Our "Race" Problem

I just finished re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird, that wonderful American classic, for the first time since I started writing my Angela novels. As an author you begin to see much more in the fiction you read, elements you never saw before or you paid little attention to, because you have become focused on the interaction of characters and many other elements of writing a story. I would like to point out two important aspects of that book.

The first is voice. The narrator is a fictional character created by Harper Lee: Scout (Jean Louise) Finch. It is the adult Scout telling us about her childhood experiences, recounting them with humor, insight, and an adult perspective. At the same time, Scout's actions and dialogue in the novel are typical of a six-to-nine year old, her ages in the story. The adult voice and child mentality work together seamlessly. It is an amazing accomplishment, all the more so because Lee went against the prevailing modernist practice of telling non-stories. In so doing she produced what may be the best American work of fiction in the 20th century.

The other element I wish to discuss fills me with sadness in the light of the events of the last week. After the jury convicts Tom Robinson, a black farm worker, when it is clear from the evidence presented at the trial that he is innocent, Jem, Scout's older brother, complains to Atticus (his father) that maybe we should do away with juries. Keep in mind that Scout and her family are white and respected in their town even if they are considered eccentric. Atticus' answer, referring to the trial and to an earlier event in which a group of men tries to pull Tom out of jail and lynch him is:

"Those are twelve reasonable men in everyday life, Tom's jury, but you saw something come between them and reason. You saw the same thing that night in front of the jail. When that crew went away, they didn't go as reasonable men, they went because we were there. There's something in our world that makes men lose their heads--they couldn't be fair if they tried. In our courts, when it's a white man's word against a black man's, the white man always wins. They're ugly, but those are the facts of life."

A little later down the page Atticus says:

"As you grow older, you'll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don't you forget it--whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash."

Ouch! Will we ever change? My life experience, and the events of last week, convince me that it will not. I long for the day when the phrase "...with liberty and justice for all" becomes a fact.

I touch lightly on some of these issues in my Angela series. You can get the first of the three books at www.amazon.com/author/bedforddavid . Ask for the new trade paperback issue, much cheaper than the hardback, of which Amazon has a few left and wishes to unload. But it's too expensive. Get the paperback at $9.50. The second book will appear in the fall and I am writing the third now.

01 July 2013

The Kennedy Assassination

In November it will be 50 years since one of the most horrendous events of the 20th Century happened in our country: the murder of visionary President John F. Kennedy by persons unknown.

The Clarín newspaper of Buenos Aires last week had a link to a video of 22 November 1963 put together from a large variety of videos taken that day by TV coverage and by a few individuals who had home movie cameras. Difficult as may be to imagine one half of a century later, there were only film cameras available at the time for consumers and only a minority of people had them. The result of editing together of the videos is a full narration of that day from the moment Kennedy arrived at Love Field to the announcement at Parkland Hospital that the President was dead. It is an effort to show everything, leaving nothing available out, in a chronological video narrative, most of it commented by the TV anchors covering the visit.

When the fateful moment of the shooting arrives, shown in two different films, one of them the famous Zapruder film, it is clear from both that the President was shot first in the chest from the front and then in the forehead where there is a small entry wound and a spurt of blood, confirmed by the clot of brain going out onto the trunk of the car from the exit wound in the back of the head.

Most of you know from my previous posts that I grew up in Argentina, the son of missionaries who served there for 40 years. We were on a required periodic furlough in 1963, living in neighboring Fort Worth. I was as shocked as anyone else and the sorrow of the country is seared into my memory. That is why I remember clearly a TV interview with Parkland Hospital doctors, who said that the exit wound was in the back of the head. That clip was shown once to my knowledge on the day of the assassination or the next, and it has since disappeared from existence, never to be seen again.

In the videos I reference, immediately after the shooting, the various cameramen scan the bridge above the glassy knoll over and over. People are all looking in that direction. After that, when the Dallas police arrive, they ignore the bridge and are seen looking up into the Book Depository Building, in spite of the fact that all indications were that the shots came directly from in front of the ill-fated President.

I have no idea who killed John F. Kennedy nor what the motivations were. All I know for sure is that the Warren Commission apparently issued their report to calm and reassure the country (a laudable motivation) but not to get at the truth. The only clear truth is that he was shot from the bridge above the grassy knoll. Let us honor his memory, catch a whiff of his enthusiasm and vision, and carry on his legacy.

Some readers may wonder why I am writing about these topics. As I have promised, my posts are never political. I do not believe that politics or politicians can save us. I do write about issues that transcend politics and invite people of both parties and all inclinations to cooperate. This is the spirit that informs my Angela trilogy. You can find the first of the series at www.amazon.com/author/bedforddavid . The second will come out in the fall and I am writing the third and last book at present.