There is a reason that To Kill a Mockingbird remains one of the most recognizable titles and characters in modern literary culture. I read this when I was in high school and I didn’t remember much about it other than Boo Radley as the neighborhood ghost story. I think that I might have been too young or inexperienced with the world to understand the innate racism that pervades our country and how well Harper Lee captures it. Generation after generation were raised, especially in the south, to think of the black man as somehow separate from humanity. They were treated like chattel and it takes more than a law to change how someone feels and what they believe to be true.
Harper Lee’s choice to have the main protagonist as a young girl allowed her to explore the role of race as well as gender in a changing world. Scout’s tomboyishness is a reflection of the value she witnessed in the sexes. Its not until the end that Scout is exposed to how powerful and smart women are in their private world, so of course she would mimic the gender of the powerful.
While Scout’s struggles in her small world dominate the book, all of the characters’ struggle to understand human equality versus the racism they are witnessing are spelled out. Jem, on the verge of manhood, almost cannot bear to learn what the trial of Tom Robinson does to his small townsfolk. Atticus reached his children through his patience and his honesty. I don’t know if there will ever be a more honorable man than Atticus Finch and without his thorough teachings, I don’t think any of the children would be able to understand the significance of the events surrounding them.
Its not just Harper Lee’s grasp of the societal norms of a small southern town that makes this a great novel, its all the characters. Harper Lee created such memorable characters and her use of the southern vernacular brings the reader into this tiny world where there’s a reclusive hero down the street and a drunk stealing sips of coca cola from a bottle in a paper bag.
Beautiful, powerful story told by a great story teller. Most highly recommend this for everyone to read.
Read May 2014