Harper Lee, 1960
It took me this many years to read a book that was published the year before I was born. I never saw the movie either.
To Kill A Mockingird is the story of the trial of a black man accused of raping a white woman, as told by Jean Louise Finch, better known as Scout. The daughter of defending attorney Atticus Finch, Scout is a fierce little girl who stands up for herself and those she loves. She and her older brother Jem (Jeremy) befriend a little boy named Dill, and the story is told through the eyes of Scout and her compadres.
If you have been avoiding the book due to its racist content and violent themes, as I had, you might want to reconsider. Slavery would have been abolished for less than seventy years when this story takes place, and some of the older citizens of Maycomb would have been alive prior to abolition. As such, the language of racism and slavery are in the very air in Maycomb Alabama, and everybody breathes that air and speaks the language, with the possible exception of Atticus Finch and neighbor Miss Maudie. This includes all three children, who are products of their upbringing and schooling and have absorbed the overriding attitudes of their time and place, as children will do.
Although the central event in this book is the trial of Tom Robinson, the buildup is slow. Lee takes her time building the world of a child in a small town in the American South. The reader goes to school with Scout, plays make-believe alongside the three children, worries with them, and gets into scrapes with them. Through Scout’s eyes we watch Jem, who is older by four years, gradually recognize the inherent wrongness of prevailing attitudes. Through the eyes of children we learn about Atticus Finch. We witness his failures and his ultimate redemption in their eyes. Because the point of view is that of a small child, the grim facts of the trial are somewhat filtered and not graphic.
This book was the subject of a virtual book discussion I held December 6. I never posed the question “Did you like the book?” but our discussion was thoughtful, lively and engaged. The discussion questions are available for your use, free of charge.