Review: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

PAPERBACK; 309 P.
ARROW BOOKS, 2010/1960
SOURCE: PURCHASED

‘Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’ A lawyer’s advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee’s classic novel – a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with exuberant humour the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the thirties. The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina of one man’s struggle for justice. But the weight of history will only tolerate so much. To Kill a Mockingbird is a coming-of-age story, an anti-racist novel, a historical drama of the Great Depression and a sublime example of the Southern writing tradition.

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of those big classics of American literature that almost everyone has read. Many studied it in school but still consider it as one of their favourite books, which is no small feat. A story of race, 1930’s Great Depression, and double standards, the book explores the lives of a small town through the eyes of a young Scout. The historically pressing time reveals some ugly truths even from the nicest of people and although a lot has changed, the story still remains current. And even more current the novel is now that the sequel, Go Set a Watchman, will be published 55 years after the classic.

The story of To Kill a Mockingbird centers around the Finch family living in Maycombe, Alabama. Scout, real name Jean Louise, is a young and active girl who enjoys playing games with her older brother Jem and other boys, and presents questions about illogical adult behaviour to her father Atticus. Atticus Finch earns his living as a lawyer, and especially in questions of right and wrong, the discussions between the two often have multiple layers. Next door to the Finches lives the Radley family that intrigues the children because unlike all the others in their neighbourhood, the Radleys keep to themselves and wild rumours fly about their grown-up son Boo. Despite orders from Atticus to stop harassing the family the children go to all lengths to lure Boo Radley out of his house. In the mean time, the town is in an uproar because an African American man is charged with the rape of a white girl and Atticus is set on defending him. And in a town as small as Maycombe, the case comes to influence all areas of life.

The depth and scope of To Kill a Mockingbird truly makes it a classic. Harper Lee’s novel not only tackles the train of thoughts and the underlying racism of the Southern society, but also goes to show it from the perspective of a child trying to learn the rules of the society. The book is a coming-of-age novel in which it isn’t the narrator who grows up and looses the idealism and innocence, but her brother and how that affects the family dynamic. In fact, the innocence of the child narrator somehow manages to underline just how terrible the injustices are, but also how illogical and strange the adults can be. Aside from the Finch family, the book is filled with characters and storylines that would all require a paragraph of their own, especially the mysterious Boo Radley. This being the first time that I read To Kill a Mockingbird, I was surprised by the direction that the story took despite having a hunch of the court decision. And like many before me, I too fell in love with Atticus Finch. He is a curious mix of detachment and deep-rooted morals. Through Scout’s perceptive eyes, she also reveals the follies of grown-ups with their ridiculous games and politics. Although I didn’t personally connect with Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, I’m very intrigued to meet her as a grown-up woman in Go Set a Watchman. I can definitely see why To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic and it is definitely one of the books that I hope to re-read in a few years. So if you haven’t yet picked up this Southern classic, I cannot but highly recommend it. And if you have, maybe revisit it in preparation for GSaW?

4.5/5

People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.

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5 thoughts on “Review: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

  1. Ahh,why not a 5/5? As you said,it was a wonderful read!
    Hmm,the childish perspective is unique,and only The God of Small Things,among the books I read,comes close to it.Do you know any book that reminds you of TKAM?

    • Trust me, I did contemplate on giving it the full 5/5, but I guess in the end there was just something that I didn’t connect with and that stopped me from falling head over heels in love with this book. However, I believe that TKaM is a story that will improve upon re-reading and that I might end up changing the rating later.
      No book springs to mind that would have used the child’s perspective as vividly as TKaM, but some parts of the book did remind me of Gone with the Wind and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

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