To Kill a Mockingbird

1 May

I just finished reading Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I was amazed. No wonder this book is considered to be a classic of American literature. The characters are brilliantly described. I could feel the atmosphere of the town and its citizens as I read the book. I completely agree with Lou Pendergrast when he writes that “there is sadness and happiness, racism and equality, immaturity and maturity, injustice and redemption.” It seemed vaguely similar to The Shawshank Redemption, in that it has a little bit of everything, but at the end was deeply inspiring. It has been a long time since I was this excited about a novel. I normally give novels that I enjoy only 4 starts, because I tend to be quite critical. To Kill a Mockingbird gets a full 5, without a doubt.

The main character, a little tomboy names Scout, is intensely lovable. Her antics, her thoughts, and the sometimes wise and sometimes outrageous things she says endeared her to me instantly. And her special relationship to Boo Radley was a beautiful thread throughout the novel. From what I’ve read elsewhere online, everyone loves the character of Atticus, too. With good reason, I say, as he seems to be a paragon of righteousness and a steady moral compass for his little southern town.

I have seen this novel criticized for being unrealistic. It is true that the issues dealt with in the novel are very black and white. There is no moral problem presented that causes the characters to struggle to find the right answer, because in this simple world the right thing to do is always obvious. People don’t do the wrong thing because they are mistaken. They do the wrong thing because they are stupid, evil people, or because they are afraid. Meghan Conrad described this criticism very well, writing that “The characters are one dimensional. Calpurnia is the Negro who knows her place and loves the children; Atticus is a good father, wise and patient; Tom Robinson is the innocent wronged; Boo is the kind eccentric; Jem is the little boy who grows up; Scout is the precocious, knowledgeable child. They have no identity outside of these roles.” I can’t deny this criticism: it is true that the characters don’t struggle with moral issues and that they show very little change in who they are over the course of the novel. But I still enjoyed it intensely, despite that. There also exists the valid criticism of the white savior: a poor black man needs help, so the white hero valiantly defends him. That is true: the few black characters in this novel are mostly objects that are acted upon, not actors themselves.  Still, this novel was describing a realistic situation in a realistic setting, so if I dislike the reality that it displays, I certainly can’t blame that on the novel. To do so would be just as foolish as disliking a person because he told me some facts which I dislike (which is something that human beings often do, actually!).

If you haven’t yet read this book, move it to the top of your reading list.

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