Friday, September 2, 2011

To Kill a Mockingbird

It is my great pleasure to add To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee to my list of Classics.  Like many of you, I read this book in junior high, and I love it as much today as I did then. Lee came out of nowhere in 1960 with one of the most beloved novels of the century and then retreated back into hiding for the rest of her life... at least so far.  (I like to think that she will have ten more books ready for us after she dies, sitting in her library for the world to take in).  I do also have to comment that the notable exception in her reclusive ways is that she assisted Truman Capote with the marvelous work, In Cold Blood.

It seems that nearly every book blog has at least one entry about To Kill a Mockingbird.  In a way, this causes me slight hesitation and makes me wonder what I could possibly offer.  But as I've said before, this blog is really more of an opportunity for me to write my thoughts about books I love than anything else, so I will not leave out Lee's masterpiece because it might be unoriginal.  Yet knowing that you are all very well read, I won't waste your time breaking down the plot bit by bit.  If it has been a long time since you looked at it, (which was the case for me!), I'll remind you that it's a coming of age story set in the south, starring Scout and her older brother Jem.  Their father, Atticus, decides to defend a wrongfully accused black man in court, despite the severe racism in his town.  The family experiences a lot of ups and downs, and we get to see shining yet humble heroism that I think all readers can whole-heartedly embrace.

Without question, the most memorable aspect of the story for me is the characters.  I am a total sucker for any big brother and little sister story because of the amazing relationship I have with my big brother, and I love the dynamic between Jem and Scout.  Although they bicker like any siblings, she endearingly looks up to him and he unquestionably takes care of her.  Tying them all together, Atticus is a phenomenal father in the story. Who doesn't fall in love with him?  He has so many words of wisdom to pass on and such an admirable integrity.  With little Scout as the narrator, we have a whole crew of unforgettable people in the story even beyond her family, including their friend Dill, the fiery Calpurnia, the evil Bob Ewell and the legendary Boo Radley.  Lee also describes the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama so thoroughly that it becomes like one of the characters.  It is easy to imagine the heat, gossip, rumors, religion, kindness and hatred that are all part of the town. 

Another aspect of the story I adore is the courtroom trial.  I am awfully fond of legal fiction, and I confess I even like to indulge in John Grisham novels.  But there are some works of merit, like To Kill A Mockingbird, which place their climax in the courtroom itself and win me over completely.  (Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities comes to mind as a great one, but my all-time favorite is definitely the trial in Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov.)  The whole movement of Tom Robinson's trial is masterfully crafted.  There are just so many dimensions to consider, like placement, timing, outburst, surprise, and suspense.  I love the image of Jem and Scout watching from the "colored" balcony, determined to see their father in action.  I also love the forced breaks we have as readers, when Scout leaves the courtroom with Dill and when Calpurnia drags the kids home.  Atticus presides over the room nobly, clearly revealing Robinson's innocence and garnering the respect of all the African-Americans watching from above, in the balcony.  And as the reader, I truly didn't know what the jury would decide.

Everything about this book is just thoroughly enjoyable.  Moreover, the themes of courage, honor, and what it means to enter adulthood are extremely compelling and insightful.  I think everyone walks away from the book with Atticus's words ringing in their ears and Scout's perspective sticking in their minds.  It makes you believe in goodness despite the existence of evil, as well as the ever-important lesson, that "it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."


Laura @ Bunny Tales said...

I read To Kill A Mockingbird earlier this year too. It is still with me on nearly a daily basis! Such an impressive book!

I also saw on your favorites list on your sidebar, Invisible Man...I am reading this right now and not having a very easy time with it. So I couldn't help but wonder if you found some of it a bit surreal as well. I seem to keep losing what is actually happening. I am getting to a spot where things seem a bit more straight forward and I'm not giving up hope!

Becky (Page Turners) said...

I read this years ago and have never revisited it - sounds like it might be time.

Amy said...

I'm sorry for the delay in getting back to you. You've probably worked through most if not all of the book now, but I'm still curious to hear your thoughts about one of my all-time favorite books. You may have found that the rest of the book is not quite as surreal as the beginning. One of the best examples of this is the awful scene in the boxing ring, and I don't think it gets much worse than that. He does encounter a series of trials, but they each represent different cultures and aspects of his life. He also finds severe instability in basing his identity on each of these groups. You're welcome to read one of my previous entries about it, which I've included below.