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 isalso 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. Companion here meaning prostitute. 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.