To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Originally published in 1960 by J.B. Lippincott and Co.
My edition: the 1997 Arrow paperback gifted to me by the lovely Lucy of Choose YA.
What’s it about?
In the 1930s in the heart of the Deep South, a lawyer defends a black man accused of the rape of a young white girl. It’s the story of the deep-seated prejudice and violence against one man’s fight for justice.
It recently celebrated its 50th anniversary and it’s still loved and revered now; that speaks for itself! To Kill a Mockingbird is also a text that’s taught in schools and universities all over the world and yet I never studied it. Now that I’ve graduated I felt that I’d been hard done by and had to read it!
I started reading To Kill a Mockingbird with a surprising lack of expectation as to what was in store for me. I was expecting the case to be the sum of the whole but it was a whole lot more besides. It crept, slowly but surely, into my heart and I think it’ll stay there for a while.
At first, I wasn’t really a fan of Scout. I found her a little annoying and precocious, but she quickly became endearing. She is astonishingly clever and perceptive for an eight-year-old and I ended up falling in love with her a little bit, especially as her relationship with Atticus and Jem became more and more prevalent. The camaraderie and respect between the Finches was heart-warming and I love the mutual respect they all had for each other. It made the trials they faced later in the novel due to Tom’s case and the pressures of Aunt Alexandra to make Scout a lady.
The strains of early feminism in To Kill a Mockingbird really surprised me. Set in the 30s and written in the late 50s, I guess that quite a few movements were in the past and society was back in the grips of a sexist world. I loved that the problems were often seen by Scout. She questioned how strange it was for women to be innately sinful because that’s what the Bible said, her outrage that women couldn’t sit on a jury and her indignation at people trying to make her into a proper young lady. Though most of those issues have been resolved now, those attitudes are still around and I was blown away by how relevant the novel as a whole is.
All of the levels of poverty and class were matter of fact and yet so prominent in the characterisation that they were all the more powerful. Because of the hidden strength of these characters and the forward-thinking of the Finches, Miss Maudie and Dolphus Raymond that Atticus had a chance with Tom’s case. I genuinely managed to push the insane prejudice to the back of my mind and forget the era that To Kill a Mockingbird was set in and I convinced myself that they would win and Tom, poor, lovely Tom, would go free. I was so angry when he didn’t. I didn’t expect to feel such strong emotions for this book so when I teared up a few pages later, I was thoroughly surprised.
I’ve always convinced myself that classics and modern classics that are studied have an element to them that would be impossible without the theories and explanations of a teacher or lecturer, but I was proven wrong once again. (The rest of this paragraph is spoilery, so beware!) The only thing in the whole novel that baffled me slightly was the very ending when I couldn’t work out who killed Bob Ewell. I re-read the final pages again and eventually came to my own conclusion before realising that Harper Lee probably intended there to be some ambiguity. I was a bit peeved at first, but I quite like that on reflection. (End of spoilers!)
So, there you have it: how I fell in love with To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s a beautiful book and I’m glad I didn’t study it at school because I might not have fallen for it in the same way.
Still not convinced?
- It’s still worryingly relevant.
- It’s one of the few novels by a woman that’s frequently taught.
- To Kill a Mockingbird is the first and only novel published by Harper Lee.
Did you read this in school/university? What did you think? Have/would you re-read it?