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One Kind of Folks in the 'Verse. Folks.

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Aug 18 2012 · 414 views

Essays, Not Rants! 022: One Kind of Folks in the 'Verse. Folks.

A quintessential part of an American High School education is reading Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. Well, most educations. It’s presented as a classic coming of age tale set amongst racial tensions in the south as seen through the eyes of a young girl.


Except that’s not what it’s about.

To Kill A Mocking Bird is about people. It’s about how people are just people. Most chapters highlight one person, be it Calpurnia, Boo Radley, or even the Ewell family and show that no matter how poor, rotten, or outcasted they may be, they are still people.

Scout and Jem have to spend a month working for Mrs Dubose, the mean old lady down the street who yells at them and insults their father. While yes, it’s a growing moment for both of them, the crucial part comes after she passes away. Scout and Jem still hate her, but Atticus Finch tells them what was really going on. She was a morphine addict desperate to get clean. Behind her ill temper was a woman desperate to be free. Atticus goes on to say that she was the bravest person he ever knew.

It’s not just the spiteful crone who get treated with a measure of sympathy. The white trash Ewell family are clearly malicious, yes, but Atticus demonstrates that they are still worthy of being treated with the respect befitting any people. Time and time again the book makes it clear — more often than not through Atticus’ example — that people are people.

Forty-two years after To Kill A Mockingbird was published another piece of fiction emerged with similar themes.

Granted, Firefly is also a lot about family, freedom, and everything in between, but something crucial to it is the fact that folk in the ‘Verse are just people.

One of the members of Serenity’s crew is Inara, a companion. The captain of the ship, Malcolm Reynolds, isn’t a terribly huge fan of her profession and persistently berates it. However, the second someone dares define her by what she does and now who she is, Mal will leap to defend her. Be it challenging her client to a duel or risking his and his crew’s lives defending a brothel from a tyrant, Mal doesn’t like it when Inara and women like her are treated as less than human.

Because they aren’t.

We come to love Inara — a sort of person most people would look down on — not because of her high social ranking within the ‘Verse, but because we know that despite her day job she’s a woman too, a mostly-ordinary person like the rest of us. It’s easy to write her character off in the beginning as just being an excuse for sex-appeal or what-have-you, but she’s just as fleshed out as the rest of the crew. The question is can you see her as a person and not just eye candy?

Great deal is spent making sure we understand every member of the crew. The mercenary Jayne or the oddly-lethal preacher Book; they all come from somewhere different, but we learn that each and everyone of them is a person with a story worth telling. We learn not to judge someone as a ‘doctor’, ‘mechanic’, or ‘soldier’ but as the person carrying the title. They’re all people.

Towards the end of To Kill A Mockingbird Jem and Scout are discussing different types of people. White and black, rich and poor, accepted or rejected. “Naw, Jem,” says Scout at one point, “I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.”

That’s the point made by works like To Kill A Mockingbird and Firefly. Though Bob Ewell thinks the color of his skin makes him better than Tom Robinson, they’re really not all that different. Shepard Book is a preacher and Inara is a companion, but they’re both people caught up in life aboard the same ship.

Don’t matter if it’s almost eighty years ago in Maycomb, Alabama or five hundred years away out in the ‘Verse, people are people, folk are folk.

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Jean Valjean
Aug 18 2012 05:09 PM
:kaukau: The English teacher in me wants to comment on how the ending was a bit abrupt, but nevertheless you highlight an extremely important point about humanity and one that it a top priority of mine as a writer when telling the stories of people. Key word there is "people". I say nothing about characters. We often make characters of people in our minds, acknowledging them by the idea of their personality, but it's only a step up from making a caricature of people in our heads.

I've only seen the pilot episode of Firefly. It made an impression, although not as much as seeing the entire series (I keep wanting to watch the rest with family because I don't want to see it alone, but they always get disinterested). I can't say I'm as impressed as you are, since Joss Whedon's work is entertaining but not particularly powerful for me, but from what I know of the series I understood all of your points. Any slight pessimism on my part is provbably due to my tendency to think how I with my own style of storytelling would have done things a little differently, but that's an irrelevant point in this discussion.

A show that I really appreciate (though I would similarly have made tweeks to the stylistic features of the delivery) is Smallville. They took characters like Lex Luthor and Doomsday and turned them into people. Even Lionel Luthor, who at first seemed over-the-top, turned out to be completely human. These people are separated not by race or occupation, but principally by their life choices (and in a certain annoying romance that went on way too long, gender, but I choose not to make that a point). Because of their different choices, beliefs, and personalities, these characters all treat each other differently based off of their presumptions. Lionel Luthor erroneously attempted to define Lex's "true nature", and Clark was considered by everyone t be "good-natured". Yet, there was really nothing separating Clark and Lex, because Clark wasn't fundamentally a hero and Lex wasn't fundamentally a villain. They came to those states of being after a lifetime of experiences and the choices they made based off of them. In many ways Clark, the future Superman, understood that, and he refused to pass final judgment (death) on anyone, even Lex Luthor, because everyone is the same while individually special.

So at the end of the day, there are many people who make bad choices, but they're equally human as people who tend to make good choices (which are usually inspired by selfish motives anyway, such as attaining a false sense of security with oneself). The wisdom I grew up with was "hate the sin, not the sinner". So much of who we are and how we find our identity is due to circumstances beyond our control. Even with our human capacity for free will, nobody is completely independent of the elements in life that influence us.

Who then, can judge anyone else? If we're all the same, then if one person is judged we're all guilty. Since that doesn't work, there's really no point. That's why the law is blind, and people are judged based on their acts alone, not on their identity as people. It's not quite the point Atticus Finch made but it's an important expansion upon the principles he stood on.


Meanwhile, I have to dust this thing off. It was reserved specifically for blogs that regularly dedicated themselves to such works as this. You're not the type who puts these in your sidebar, but I hope you still appreciate it.

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Aug 18 2012 06:31 PM
You managed to compare To Kill a Mockingbird and Firefly. I salute you, good sir.
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