Mature Main Character Scout

Year 12 English Speech – James Vermeesch

Sometimes authors deliberately represent concepts about the lives of individuals and the relationship with their real, remembered or imagined landscapes in their writings, this is particularly seen in both the works of Alan De Botton and Harper Lee. The writers use literary techniques in different styles to convey the ideas about the places and people around us.

Harper Lee writes in the perspective of the now mature main character Scout in her book, To Kill a Mocking Bird representing how remembered landscapes "Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather, the streets turned to red slop”. This quotation, from Chapter 1, is Scout's introductory nostalgic description of Maycomb. Scout puts emphasis on the Southern temperature, old-fashioned morals, and general slow movement of the town, where ladies use talcum powder, men wear shirt collars, and the roads are not paved, transforming into “red slop” when the rain comes. This description places Maycomb in the reader’s mind as a sleepy town in the South. Spoken in the perspective of a now older scout, this quote reveals a remembered landscape of her hometown not only gives the readers a visual representation of the book’s setting and landscape, but a nostalgic view of the town from the main character who now has seen and lived through all the events in the book that is to come. When she was young she thought it was a “tired old town when I first knew it” suggesting that in hindsight the town seemed normal enough but once she got to know it, the more cynical and restless side of the town.’

Similarly, De Botton’s use of reflection on remembered landscapes in The Art of Travel creates an opportunity to recapture a moment while evaluating the observer’s relationship to the landscape and the world as a whole. De Botton references and identifies that Wordsworth moved beyond ‘natural phenomena’ of the landscape to develop a deeply personal relationship with a focus on the details: placid lakes, a sparrow’s nest, and the sound of nightingales. Critics at the time, particularly Byron, saw this relationship as unsophisticated, ‘namby-pamby’, and yet de Botton reminds us that Wordsworth’s philosophy of nature has had a ‘hugely influential claim about our requirements for happiness’ and the origins of our unhappiness. With his intimate and conversational tone, de Botton locates this unhappiness in the binary opposition of country and city describing Wordsworth’s understanding that the landscape was an ‘indispensible corrective to the psychological damage inflicted by life in the city.’Ultimately de Botton is challenging us to reconsider the importance of the landscape and to realise that the mere act of travelling is not sufficient to appreciate it if it is not captured in our memories. He writes that we may have ‘met people who have crossed deserts, floated on icecaps and cut their way through jungles – and yet in whose souls we search in vain for evidence of what they have witnessed.’