Wednesday, October 6, 2010
To Kill A Mockingbird
Oh My. What can one say about such a powerful novel that hasn't already been said? Over and over. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee is one of the most powerful books I have ever read. I'm quite glad that I am just now getting around to it. I honestly don't think I would have fully appreciated it in high school as a teenager.
Atticus Finch is one of the most decent characters in all of literature. Doing the right thing simply because it's the right thing to do. Knowing that most of the white townspeople will at the least not understand why he so passionately defends a black man and at the worst some will despise him. He is always the gentleman, even when spit upon, and raises his children to be without hate and prejudice.
Telling the story through the eyes of Scout is an absolute tour de force. Her innocence and disbelief that grown ups can act the way they do is dead on target. I particularly like her recognition of Miss Gates's hypocrisy:
(Scout) "She hates Hitler a lot..."
(Jem) "What's wrong with that?"
"Well she went on today about how bad it was him treatin' the Jews like that. Jem, it's not right to persecute anybody, ist it? I mean have mean thoughts about anybody, even, is it?"
"Gracious no, Scout. What's eatin' you?"
"Well, coming out of the courthouse that night Miss Gates was--she was goin' down the steps in front of us, you musta not seen her--she was talking with Miss Stephanie Crawford. I heard her say it's time somebody taught 'em a lesson, they were gettin' way about themselves, an' the next thing they think they can do is marry us. Jem, how can you hate Hitler so bad an' then turn around and be ugly about folks right at home--"
It is so easy to condemn someone far away for despicable behavior. And so easy to practice it when "those people" (whoever they may be) are right here and need to be treated decently. It's easy to condemn prejudice elsewhere and yet still practice yourself. (with an argument of "but that's different....") Until the number of people who believe and act like Atticus Finch outnumber and out-voice those with fears and prejudice, there will always be situations where we as humans let our fears and prejudices allow us to condemn the innocent--whether it's a condemnation in the courtroom or injustice in any walk of life. Atticus and his children teach us that there is a better way.
The supporting cast of characters are well-drawn and vibrant. In addition to the main story--Finch's fight for justice--we follow Jem on his journey to manhood, we see Aunt Alexandra's change of heart, and we bask in the warmth and sternness of Calpurnia as she helps Atticus guide his children through childhood and towards young adulthood. Even Miss Maudie, a more minor character, has her shining moments. This novel is going to the top of my all-time favorite American novels. Five stars out five--a knock-out on all counts. If you haven't read this...put it on your to-do list. You won't regret it.