Thursday, 5 August 2010

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

GENRE: Southern Gothic novel/classical novel

Set in the small Southern town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the Depression, To Kill a Mockingbird follows three years in the life of 8-year-old Scout Finch, her brother, Jem, and their father, Atticus--three years punctuated by the arrest and eventual trial of a young black man accused of raping a white woman. Though her story explores big themes, Harper Lee chooses to tell it through the eyes of a child. The result is a tough and tender novel of race, class, justice, and the pain of growing up.


I chose to open my personal American Classics Challenge with this novel. We discussed it in detail in the American Novel after WW2 class at university and since then, I’ve been eager to read it.

The story itself is nothing extraordinary or mind-blowing, but to me, that’s the beauty of it. It’s not about amazing plots and twists, but about the characters that appear in the novel and about important themes that the author chose to write about. The novel is narrated through the eyes of Scout (nickname of Jean Louise Finch), a tomboy of a girl who is a very curious and observant child of nine. She spends most of her time playing with her older brother Jem and their friend Dill, the character of which Lee based on her friend Truman Capote, another famous American author. The children play and absorb everything that happens around them, from gossip, to legendary stories and social and racial issues. This is, foremost, a journey from innocence to experience and everything that accompanies such growth.

I really loved it that Lee chose to present the story through a child’s eyes because in my opinion, a child’s view is the purest view you will get. There is no baggage attached to a child’s vision and they really see things as they are, people as they are. It was great to read how Scout and Jem perceived certain events and sometimes they really took them to heart, and then how adults saw the same events. It kind of almost makes you wish you never grew up, so your mind would not become corrupt in any way. Of course that’s not possible, but it’s a thought that passed my mind. However, some adults’ minds remain intact. This is the case with Atticus Finch, the father of Scout and Finch. I deeply admire his character and I wish I could know such a person in real life. When it comes to justice, he is uncompromising. He is not afraid of what people will say, or if they attempt to threaten or harm him – he will stick by his principles no matter what and he tries to educate his children in his spirit. He advocates justice, equality and the fact that everyone deserves to be treated with respect. Even when someone spits in his face (literally), he is proud and unperturbed. He lives by his conscience and as long as he can live with himself, he just doesn’t care what others say about it. He is an amazing literary character and a true role model. In fact, he reminds me of Jesus, as strange as that may sound to some.

Apart from featuring great characters and a journey from innocence to experience, this novel covers many interesting topics, some of which can not only be applied to American culture, but to humankind in general. The book describes racial prejudices, Southern life, social ranks, and even the role of genders. Throughout the book, laws are discussed, not only court laws, but laws of humanity, and how equality is just something written on paper, but not practiced in real life (which is, sadly, still the case). Of course, the omnipresent motif is that of innocence lost, the death of innocence, which is presented through the symbol of a mockingbird.

The event that changes the children in the novel is the trial of a black man, Tom Robinson, falsely accused of raping a white woman. This event comprises many of the novel’s themes, although racial injustice prevails, and the children are really affected by the ugly truth that they see with their own eyes. People will accuse someone of a crime the person did not commit because of prejudices and when the children realise how society actually works, they lose their innocence and enter the cruel world of experience. The message here is very clear: Ignorance and fear of the unknown breed prejudices, and prejudices breed hatred. Once you get there, it all goes down, which is a sad, ugly truth.

I loved a part before the ending, when children were taught about Hitler in school. They asked their teacher why Hitler hated the Jews so much and the teacher replied that it was because there was no democracy in Germany, whereas, luckily, democracy existed firmly in America. That was said by the same teacher who was on the side of those who were ready to lynch a black man because of the colour of his skin. Scout and Jem noticed that and discussed it with their Atticus, and I just loved it how human hypocrisy was pointed out.

This is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel for a reason. As I said, the story is not remarkable, but what it tells you is important. This novel provides you with food for thought, and if not for anything else, then it should be read for this reason. It makes me sick to know there are people in the world who call themselves Neo Nazis or are members of the Ku Klux Klan. But luckily, to every such person, there will always be an Atticus and while that is the case, I think there’s hope left.



Blodeuedd said...

Great review, and, ok yes, I will read this book :) I am making that promise to myself now

Unknown said...

Great review :-) I love To Kill a's one of my all-time favourites!

James Garcia Jr said...

Thanks for posting the review. This one sits proudly on my book shelf already. One of the classics!

Midnyte Reader said...

I read this book a long time ago and the story is still with me.

Mary Simonsen said...

To Kill a Mockingbird is a remarkable book written at a the beginning of a turbulent time in American History. However, on a lighter note, a reviewer said that Dill was the type of kid that he would have beat up and stolen his milk money. Made me laugh.

The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

Lovely review of a lovely book-a great start to your American Classics Challenge!

Whitney said...

Great review! To Kill A Mockingbird is outstanding. Also, I don't think comparing Atticus with Jesus is weird at all, he reminds me of Obama.