I just finished reading To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee and I am just amazed. This book was so good! She drew me in immediately and her descriptions of the town’s history, the people and the pace of life really capture the essence of small town life in Maycomb, Alabama.
There is so much to this book, it’s hard to know where to begin, but essentially, this book is about a young girl growing up in a small town in Alabama during the depression and the events that unfold during a three year period that leave everyone involved forever changed.
The story is told from the point of view of six year old Scout, Jean Louise Finch, over a period of three years. We meet her older brother, Jem; her father, Atticus; her friend, Dill and a host of other neighbors and acquaintances who make up the town and are an integral part of her life in one way or another. Scout and Jem spend carefree summers playing games, and then one day they discover a new kid next door about the same age as Scout. Dill has come to visit his aunt for the summer and the three kids become quick friends. They play creative and imaginative games, often pretending to be someone else, which is a theme that will ring throughout the novel: putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. The kids find out that their neighbor Boo Radley hasn’t left his house in years and they become intrigued, often to the point of obsession, with finding out why he won’t leave his home and they devise methods to try and lure him out. During this time, Atticus accepts a case defending a black man, Tom Robinson, who is accused of raping a white girl, and Scout and Jem are subjected to taunts, which often lead to fights on the playground as a result, especially for Scout. Atticus doesn’t want them fighting over this because, he tells them, it’s only going to get worse. As the story unfolds, we witness many events which allow the kids to see things from someone else’s point of view, until finally the case with Tom Robinson comes to trial, which exposes the hypocrisy and blindness of the town and forces the kids to see things from a completely different perspective, and one they do not understand. It is witnessing this trial and dealing with its aftermath which will have a lasting effect on them.
Empathy is the main theme of this book, trying to see things from someone else’s point of view. There are many events in this story that allow the kids to put themselves in another person’s shoes: Miss Caroline in her first year of teaching, Mrs. Dubose’s abusive treatment of Jem, Miss Maudie’s house burning down, Boo Radley’s peculiar reclusiveness, Tom Robinson’s unfair trial and verdict, and even Helen’s treatment by many in the town after the trial.
A moment in time
I liked this book because it was a snapshot of history. While it may not be a pretty picture, it is one that we need to see. Sadly, it reflects a time when a black person’s word held no weight against a white person’s. The fact that it was clearly evident that Tom was not guilty of raping Mayella Ewell, but a guilty verdict was still reached is evidence of this bias. During the trial, those in the gallery were even offended when Tom said that he felt bad for Mayella. This was a reversal of social roles that upset the town’s cultural norm. In fact, the prosecutor even made sure to use that against Tom in his closing remarks. This is heartbreaking and devastating to justice and truth. Even listening to the ladies talking at the missionary tea was offensive because it was so hypocritical. They spoke of reaching the Mrunas, to lift them up and out of poverty and ignorance, all the while ignoring the poor and needy on the other side of town. How could they weep and pray for people on the other side of the world and be so blind and unconcerned with those suffering and struggling in their own community?
This book not only deals with social roles, but also gender roles of that time. Scout is constantly being criticized for not wearing skirts and Aunt Alexandra is determined to make her a ‘lady’. Another snapshot of history is that the trial took place in 1935, when women were not allowed on juries. There was some laughing and jeering about how long it would take for a verdict to be reached if a woman was a juror because she would be talking all the time, asking the defendant questions from the juror’s box. As if a woman would be unable to think things through or be called upon to be professional in that situation.
In some ways it is also a snapshot of a simpler time. It was a time when kids used their imaginations in play, where elders were respected and people knew their neighbors by name. I think this book is a ‘classic’ because it still touches people and is still relevant today. I’m glad I finally read this book and I’m also glad that Harper Lee worked so hard to re-write her original draft into this amazing work that will endure for years to come.