As I’m sure you’re all aware Harper Lee sadly passed away on the 19th February at the ripe old age of 90. And so, as tribute, I dedicate this post to her memory.
I read To Kill A Mockingbird as a GCSE text, and it is for this reason that I have a great affinity for it. It’s impossible to spend six months studying a book and not fall in love with it.
The book is set in 1930s Alabama and explores the town’s deep-set racial hatred through the eyes of two children, Scout and Jem. They live at home with their father Atticus and go to a comprehensive school just down the road. One summer they befriend a boy named Dill who is staying with his Aunt, and he is the one who tempts them to make Boo Radley come out. Boo is a recluse who no one has seen in years and whom it is believed stabbed his father with a pair of scissors. As children often are, they are curious about him and want to see him with their own eyes. Although the rumours infer that Boo is a dangerous man, it soon becomes apparent that he has a kind soul, and is just as interested in the children as they are in him, for he is leaving gifts for Scout in a hollowed out tree by his house.
Throughout Scout’s experiences at school she is made aware that not all the local residence attend, and not all of them can read. Even in this small integrated society, Scout is beginning to understand the class gap, and this is truly fascinating to read through the words of a child narrator.
Atticus Finch is a lawyer and is set to represent Tom Robinson, a local black man charged with a white woman’s rape. Some of the town think he shouldn’t ‘do too much to defend him’ but Atticus is firm in his belief that he should stand by every one of his clients, no matter the colour of their skin, especially if he believes in their innocence.
The rest of the novel is the trial and the outcome of said trial, although there is also a twist at the end. I don’t want to spoilt too much but it puts both Scout and Jem’s lives in danger and makes us see Boo Radley in a completely different light. It’s a thrill right at the end of a very charming but serious book.
I thought this novel, which is an incredibly YA friendly text, did so many things on so many levels. It teaches the reader about racial beliefs in Texas in this era, it teaches us about the innocence of childhood, it teaches us that not all is as it seems, and most of all it teaches us that society is constantly moving. It may be in ‘baby steps’ as Atticus puts it, but this shift in attitudes and beliefs can be said of every issue in every society now and in the past. As society begins to understand issues – racism, sexism, homosexuality, transgenderism – opinions begin to change. It proves that humans are only sceptical and damning of the unknown. This novel explores society’s capability to change, using a child narrator to emphasise the absurdity of the original belief.
I now cannot wait to read Go Set a Watchman, which was only published last year (2015). Although promoted as a sequel this is commonly believed to be a first draft of To Kill A Mockingbird. I don’t know much about this text, and am trying hard not to read any spoilers, but I do know that it begins with Jean-Louise’s return to the town of Maycomb, aged 26 after a spell of living in New York.
It may be a while until I get round to it – it’s quite a way down my reading list (she admits embarrassingly)- but when I do I’ll let you know how it compares!
One final thing: the 1962 film of To Kill A Mockingbird is exceptionally well done and definitely worth a watch. Over and out –