Classic Book Review: To Kill A Mockingbird (by Harper Lee Paperback 376 Pages)

Posted: July 3, 2015 in Books
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In 1936, Jean Louise Finch, also known as Scout, lived with her brother Jem and father Atticus in the sleepy little county of Macomb County, Alabama.  Scout and Jem spent the summer playing with their friend Dill, who spends time with Jem and Scout because things are unsettled at home.  They also spend much of their time trying to get a look at Boo Radley, a quiet man, who stays inside his house all the time.  The kids make up wild stories about Boo, and dare each other to knock on his door.

Atticus is a lawyer and neither Scout nor Jem are too impressed with his job early on because he is unlike the regular folk in Macomb County.  As spring stretches into fall, Scout goes to school, she’s eight, in the third grade, and never afraid to talk back to a teacher, talk back to her maid Calpurnia, or fight a boy if they speak ill of Atticus.    Jem, who is 12, is more interested in playing games with Dill, but he also keeps a tight rein on Scout, and because he’s older, she begrudgingly listens to him.

Things are far from idyllic in this Southern county, a black handyman named Tom Robinson is accused of raping a white girl named Mayella Ewell, Tom insists he’s innocent, and Atticus is the only one in Maycomb County who will defend Tom.  Two nights before the trial, a mob appears in Atticus’ yard, threatening both Atticus and Tom Robinson.  It’s Atticus himself who talks the angry mob down from their violent intentions.  Despite their tender years, Jem and watch the trial.  How does the trial go?  Does Atticus get Tom acquitted?  Or does the bigotry of the county foretell the verdict?

I love this book.  There are so many interesting aspects to this book.  Because it is told from the point of view of the children, specifically Scout, it makes the racism more horrifying, because the kids can’t quite understand what all the anger is all about and why some of it is directed at Atticus.  Atticus is the moral conscience of the book, always giving his children lessons on how to treat people well, even some of the more despicable characters in the book, and living those beliefs.  When the kids wish that Atticus was more like the other fathers in the county, Lee introduces a chapter where Miss Maudie, Atticus’ neighbor tells the kids that Atticus is the finest shot in Macomb County, and then he proves it by shooting a rabid dog.  That gives the kids a respect of Atticus that they never had before.  Lee also introduces Tom Robinson in an ingenious way, though Calpurnia, and soon Jem and Scout are going to Calpurnia’s church regularly, and sat in the balcony with the Reverend Sykes and the rest of the black people in the courthouse as the trial begins.

The maturing of Jem is another interesting aspect of the book, before the trial he is a happy go lucky kid, after the trial, he is a wholly different person, Scot doesn’t quite comprehend the change, but hopefully the reader can understand what has happened to Jem Finch.  Perhaps the most interesting character is Boo Radley, Boo is a symbol, a metaphor.  Jem and Scout don’t understand him, so they think he’s evil, just  like most white people in Maycomb county don’t know any blacks and therefore think the worst of them.  The last few chapters lull the reader into a false sense that the major events of the book are over and then, bam another surprise, and the book ends.

It is ironic that I finished this book in the wake of the shootings of nine black parishioners in South Carolina by a white supremacist.  It’s hard to argue that we live in a post racial society in the wake of an event like this.  55 years after this book was written issues of race unfortunately still resonate in the U.S.  That is reason enough to read this book, or read it again, like I did.  But there are many more reasons to read this book.  I hope you do.

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