To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Scout Finch leads the life of your average child in her small town in Alabama. She isn’t particularly fond of school, absolutely adores her older brother, and gets up to all kinds of shenanigans during her summer break. Her life is populated by two kinds of people: those who indiscriminately make friends and those who measure others according to their own scale of acceptability, be it family background or the color of their skin. These issues gain importance throughout the book as her father, a lawyer and local hero known for his quiet manner, prepares to defend a black man against the word of a white girl. Leading up to the big day, Scout gradually comes to recognize prejudices that lead to discriminatory behavior and even violent action, and after court is adjourned, she sees how the issues continue to evolve after public acknowledgement. Gifted with the innocence of childhood, Scout absorbs these lessons and learns how to deal with people she does and doesn’t agree with in a way that allows her to find her own values. In Smalltown, America, that is an incredibly difficult lesson and a priceless gift.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” is widely regarded as an amazing book, and rightly so. The voice of Scout stays constant throughout the story, but we see how she is growing up. Lee introduces the story by presenting us with the summertime play of Scout, her brother Jem, and their friend Dill. Lee hooks the reader by appealing to their sense of innocent fun. Then Lee introduces the sticky issues – what is best for the reputation of the family, when and how to defend the ones we love, and what qualities a hero has, not to mention the more obvious racial and social issues throughout the book. What makes this most effective, though, is that Lee manages to maintain the innocent voice and perspective of a child throughout the story, so that the novel unwinds with genuine emotional involvement rather than a strict moral lesson. We become attached to these characters and find ourselves sharing their search for understanding. Lee offers a touching and sensitive portrayal of the human spirit, of what it means to be a good person, and how to define yourself and your world when you’re not sure what to believe in.
I found this book to be sufficiently enjoyable when it was assigned for English class in 9th grade, but I obviously wasn’t paying much attention to it. This time around, I found the book absolutely amazing, and I was moved to tears on multiple occasions. It was a bit like “Dracula” in that I remembered the first part of the book, but realized, upon re-reading, that so much more happened after what I thought was the climax, and I got so much more out of the book this time around. I never remembered that “how to be a lady” comes into the story, but it subtly finds its way in there. The obvious winner is Atticus Finch, who unflaggingly believes in the inherent value of all human beings and lives with more integrity than humanly possible. Despite certain unfortunate circumstances, this is an inspiring book, offering hope to anyone who believes in the possibility of a fair world.