Trigger Warning: This novel and it’s review contain descriptions of and mention the following topics: racism, hanging, oppression, mental illness, death.
Goodreads Rating: 4 Stars
Year Published: 1960
I vividly remember reading this book in my sophomore high school English class. I also recall many of the students in my class actually reading and getting into this book, which seemed like such an odd thing at the time. Anyway, I remember talking about the characters, who they were, why it was important to hear from their point of view, why the book was still relevant. So, I guess it’s about time to share my thoughts on all that again, over a decade later (yikes, right?)
Lee starts off the novel introducing her readers to the fictitious town of Maycomb, Alabama and the Finch family: Atticus Finch, a lawyer, widower, and single father; Jeremy “Jem” Finch, Atticus’ son and eldest of the Finch children; and Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, Atticus’ tomboy daughter. When Atticus is assigned a case in which he is to defend Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping and beating a young woman named Mayella Violet Ewell, the small town becomes abuzz and accusatory to the Finches, and especially Atticus, for defending a black man and believing he didn’t do as he was accused. This was difficult for the children, and often an instigation for them to get into fights and lose their temper with other community members.
Over the course of three years, there are many things for Scout and Jem to learn and understand. For Scout, she questions what it is to be a lady or ladylike, as she is strong, tough, and outspoken compared to other girls. Though her mother passed away, she still has plenty of female-figures in her life, such as their housekeeper, Calpurnia, and her Aunt Alexandra, and Mr. Rachel Haverford, her friend Charles Baker “Dill” Harris’ aunt and her next door neighbor. Though these women mean well, Scout has a hard time connecting with their traditional expectations for young girls. So, Scout spends much of her time with Miss Maudie Atkinson, the neighbor across the street who happens to be a little more open-minded and understanding than most in the community. She often councils both Scout and Jem, and helps them also understand more about the controversy surrounding the Robinson-Ewell trial.
Yet, as the trial seems to be drawing to a close, things are only getting more turbulent in Maycomb. Drawing on her own experiences, Lee pulls together the conclusions of the novel through the eyes and voice of Scout. This allows the reader the ability to question and form their own opinions based on the actions and opinions of these characters and draw their own conclusions. Additionally, because these characters are children, it allots for direct and honest contemplation- these children won’t skirt around an issue because they don’t understand the severity of such things yet. In the same context, the children who make racial and historically inappropriate commentary will be more easily forgiven as they learn that their community and the remarks they make are not actually appropriate.
Knowing what I know now after reading Go Set a Watchman, I find myself questioning what I thought I knew at the end of To Kill a Mockingbird, but no matter what I way I dice it, I still find myself respecting Lee’s prowess at storytelling. Gripping, honest, and even humorous on occasion, Lee’s novel has stuck and will continue to stick with me throughout the years.
What Makes it a Classic?
To Kill a Mockingbird has become a staple in many homesteads, classrooms, and educational discussions despite it being considered quite a controversial publication for its time. It landed itself on the banned books list a few times because of it’s racially charged plot, topics, and setting, but it’s staying power outlasted those against it. To Kill a Mockingbird became a classic because it allowed the readers to understand the segregation, racism, and judicial system in the south during the 1930s, and it still referenced today because there is still a lot of change and improvement to come from and grow beyond that time period.
TL/DR: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is a 1960 classic novel about a young girl, her brother as they experience the segregated south in the 1930s and a trial in which their white father defends a black man.
Read it? Yes. This is one of the most iconic novels in regards to segregation and oppression in the south.
Recommend it? Absolutely. Especially if you never studied the book in high school, or it’s been a while since you’ve read it the first time.
Buy it? Yes- this belongs on everyone’s book shelf!
Watch the movie? I remember watching the movie in high school and I think it did the book justice, but the impact of hearing Scout’s innermost thoughts is missed. So yes, watch it, but definitely don’t think you don’t have to read the book as well.
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