Monday, 26 November 2012

The Classics Club: To kill a mockingbird

This being my mother's favourite book, I've heard about To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee ever since I was a child. So, when I received it as a present, I was really looking forward to this treat.   

I wanted to see how deep into the social circumstances of that era I would dive in, and I was also interested to see whether I would understand why this had been Lee's only published work so far...

I must have read the first 70 pages overnight - such an easy read it was, full of the flavours and smells of the South as viewed by a child.  How lovely it was to see the close relationship of the siblings, their interaction with their father (whom they call by his name??), but also with the housekeeper, who is more of a substitute parent.  But then I stopped, and reviewed what I had just read: was it really such an easy-going society?  were people really that decent?  

And then little details began to emerge:  the fact that people would just accept the boarded-up house of the Radleys and would not comment on Boo's disappearance.  Even though I believe in today's cities this would be the norm, I can't imagine life in the 1930's would be that superficial.  That children of poor families would be considered of a lesser class and thus excused from school.  I could not get over the fact that by sticking their face in the sand, people of Maycomb, Alabama really believed the problem would cease to exist.  No, the idyllic landscape had slowly given place to a harsher reality -- and that was before the rape trial, which is the main event of the book!

The language used in this first part is very simple - it even reminded me of a children's book.  In sharp contrast, the second part was rather dark.  I know about political correctness, but I can't help thinking that if I hadn't read the word "nigger" that many times I would not have felt so strongly about the subject of this book.  I don't have any experience of racial segregation, and that word could have been the only way I might feel the intensity of the situation. While (I hope) all races of the world are nowadays free to mingle and thrive, I was really surprised to see that official segregation was active until the late 1960's.  On the other hand, the way social and racial unrest is on the increase throughout Europe nowadays, I started fearing about a scenario of the return of the reality depicted in the book in the near future.  This is the second book, after 1984 of Orwell, that I've read about ideas that seem so far-fetched, yet which could be true so easily...   

While the book may have been intense, I was more shocked afterwards, when reading about the book and the controversy it still creates.  I can understand why To kill a Mockingbird is never out of print, why it always appears on the list of books one must read, and why it's high up on the list of banned books... Little "truths" that can apply to several scenarios (I could well imagine the same story with social segregation) often hurt and we tend to ignore what can bring us in an uncomfortable situation.  Whereas it would be so easy to just get to know someone before we pass judgement.  As Atticus says in the very end: "Most people are (real nice) when you finally see them" - once we have walked around in that person's skin and we've gained a greater understanding of their motives and behaviour...

Also read for the Back to the Classics challenge


  1. I agree. To Kill a Mockingbird is a wonderful book. I especially love how the writer uses the point of view of a child to describe racism in this novel. I also like the way Atticus educate his children, the way he speaks to them and explains things to them. Thanks for the nice review. You make me want to read it again.

  2. You put it brilliantly, Patty! I must re-read TKAM someday, it's been my favorite book of all time. And after have written a book like this, I think Lee deserved to be left alone on the back of the curtain...

  3. I have owned this book for so long and never read it! I have to dust it off and read it. Great article.

  4. I loved this book. I recently watched the movie too, the old one, and it was fantastic.




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