Review: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I’ve been procrastinating on this review because, really, what could I possibly say about this book that hasn’t already been said eighty million times? One of the ways I choose what book to read next is simply by searching for “list of classic books” and then I just pick one I’m missing. This one had been on my classics radar for a while, because I’m pretty sure everyone in the world but me read this one in high school.

Spoilers are in the summary.

Summary:

Scout Finch and her brother, Jem, live in a small town in 1930’s Alabama with their father, Atticus, and housekeeper, Calpurnia. A neighbor, Dill, joins them in the summers and the trio spend their time outdoors, thinking up ways to lure the mysterious Boo Radley outside. One day, Scout and Jem learn that Atticus, a lawyer, will be representing Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping and assaulting a white woman. Scout and Jem are harassed at school because of this, and their aunt eventually comes to live with them to help keep tomboy Scout out of trouble. The trial comes and goes (in an emotional scene that had me cheering for Atticus and furious at everyone else in the courtroom) and Tom, even though Atticus proves his innocence, is convicted of the crime.

Later on, Tom tries to escape jail but is shot and killed. Scout, Jem, and Dill are affected in various ways by the trial and learn important lessons. Slowly, life in Maycomb is returning to normal. However, Bob Ewell, the accuser’s father and the one who actually assaulted her, is still furious with Atticus for publicly shaming him. He attacks Scout and Jem on their way home from a Halloween play. Boo Radley rescues the children, though Jem gets a broken arm, and kills Bob Ewell. Scout walks Boo back home after the Sheriff says, “There’s black boy dead for no reason, and the man responsible for it’s dead. Let the dead bury the dead this time, Mr. Finch.” Atticus reads a book to Scout until she falls asleep and spends the night watching over Jem.

My Thoughts:

I appreciated the simplicity of the language. It felt like I was reading a story in the hot, humid South. The story flowed perfectly with Lee’s writing style; it was straightforward and charming yet never boring. I think the simplicity is what made the message so powerful.

I'm just going to assume that people who don’t like this book (if you can believe that) were probably forced to read it. I know some also think the characters were a little one-dimensional. I understand that argument, but don’t completely buy it. Sure, Atticus was a perfect, can-do-no-wrong father figure, but I don’t think it made him unbelievable. He had the weight of the world - or at least Alabama - on his shoulders. He had to hold himself at a high standard, especially for his children.

Scout was my favorite, with her tomboy tendencies and polite back-talking. I loved that I could read from the perspective of a child and not want to skim over her thoughts. Once, she referred to waiting as “two eternities later,” or something similar, and I laughed out loud. One character I wanted to see more of was Tom. His main appearance was in the courtroom and Atticus’ speech on Tom’s behalf there broke my heart, so naturally I wasn’t satisfied. But because it’s Scout’s story and she was so young, Tom was only there to be an innocent - a mockingbird.

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the similarities in this fiction novel and our real world today. Normally I keep my views on polarizing topics off of social media, but I do want to make myself clear in this post. For the record, I don’t stay silent in real life as I believe that type of dialogue matters more than the internet. I discuss my views and show support of my beliefs; I simply don’t do it online. (Both are important, one is just my preferred method.) If you look at my Facebook, I post maybe 5 - 6 times a year. If I don’t reshare cute puppy videos, I’m not going to post statuses that make people I really don’t know comment out of anger.

Obviously, I realize To Kill a Mockingbird is fiction, but I don’t doubt that there have been thousands and thousands of cases in the last few decades alone that were influenced by racial prejudice. If your kitchen is on fire, you don’t run around the living room screaming “all rooms matter!” You aim the extinguisher right at the kitchen. Because THAT’S what matters. And right now black lives matter. Of course not all cops are bad people. I know several who truly embody service and I’m beyond thankful for that. It’s not lost on me that cops run toward gunshots and not away (just look at Dallas for an example). But we do have a system rigged against people of color, we do have institutionalized racism, and we do need to fix this.

To say “all lives matter” is true, but to say it in quick retaliation to “black lives matter” makes it a defense mechanism. If saying “black lives matter” makes you uncomfortable, stop and think about why. It should not be hard to say.

Following are a couple of quotes I most appreciated:

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

“Shoot all the Bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em. But remember it’s a sin to kill a Mockingbird.”

Rating:

This was - duh - a 5 of 5 for me. It’s a classic, it’s charmingly written, and the message in it lives on. If you read it in school, read it again as an adult. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s a must.