Harper Lee's American classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, is hailed as one of America's greatest literary works and manages to blend issues of racism, social, and criminal justice issues as well as the legal system while weaving all of this together from the perspective of an adult woman narrating the events of the story, but as a young girl.
It sounds a bit confusing, but it just works. It's a book the defies genre and is a classic for a reason: it's damn, damn good. And so is Gregory Peck in the movie adaptation of the novel, too.
So why is Page 174 of 'To Kill a Mockingbird' a meme now?
If you've read the book then you know that the plot has a lot to do with racism. The book was controversial when it was first published in 1960 and it still continues to ruffle people's feathers until this very day. So you can only imagine what Harper Lee had in mind when she was writing some of the more discriminatory characters in her now-iconic book, which is set in the 1930s South.
The protagonist of the book, Atticus Finch, was based off of Harper Lee's own father, Amasa Coleman Lee. The Alabama lawyer, like his literary counterpart, represented black defendants in a trial that was largely publicized.
In the book, Atticus is defending Tom Robinson, a 25-year-old hard-working and honest cotton field worker who is married with children. He's accused of raping Mayella Ewell, after she's caught trying to seduce Tom by her father.
Mayella and her dad make the claim that Tom aggressively came on to her, and Atticus has to navigate a minefield of discrimination in order to get the facts right about what transpired between Tom and Mayella. Overtly claiming a white woman is attracted to a black man is pretty much blasphemous in 1930s Alabama, which makes Atticus' job nearly impossible.
The book, because it takes place in such a racially charged time period, features language that is downright reprehensible in this day and age, especially with the cavalier use of the "n-word" that a lot of characters in the novel use freely. Like when Francis, a young boy, calls Atticus Finch a "n----r lover."
On page 174 of the book, the "n word" is used, so whenever someone in class is asked to read that section aloud, it's always a tense moment among students and teachers.
In fact, it's so controversial that some school districts have banned the book from being a part of official school curriculums all over the country.
When I was growing up, my eighth grade English teacher addressed the use of the word in the book and explained the time period in which the book was written, along with the setting of the book and what social phenomenons Harper Lee was addressing.
However, everyone's experience with the book and how its subject matter is handled varies greatly on the environment in which the book was read. And a lot of the memes that have been spawned from the infamous "Page 174" reflect this variegated response to Harper Lee's usage of the word.
Some people sadly highlight how certain students were "excited" to say the word aloud and even sadder, is how some teachers don't even address the use of the word and just say it aloud.
Others highlighted the weird mental gymnastics their classmates exercise while reading the book. Like this one Twitter user's classmate who had no problem saying the word, but had a big time gripe with uttering the phrase "bastard."
Others even recorded a classroom incident where a student asked their teacher to stop saying the "n word" while reading To Kill a Mockingbird. It became a big local news story.
The controversy surrounding the novel persists to this day. I mean, here we are in 2020 and people are making memes about it, after all.