Of the all the American Literature that I have read, I would say Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill A Mockingbird‘ tops the list. It is a surprisingly light-read classic which speaks volumes of the condition of the African Americans during the Great Depression and their marginalization. Upon its publication in 1960, it became highly successful and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and selling over fifteen million copies. Two years after the book’s publication, an Academy Award–winning film version of the novel – with the same name, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, was produced. As result of the lightness that surfaces in the novel, it has been widely noted for its warmth and humor despite talking about the issues of rape and racial inequality. It is loosely based on what Lee observed during her childhood.
The novel follows the story of Atticus Finch, a lawyer and his difficulties in bringing justice to an African American man who has been falsely accused of a crime. While fighting for the case, it brings much trouble for the family and it depicts sensitively how this affects his children, Jem and Scout Finch. The portrayal of Atticus Finch in the novel has led him to be a sort of moral hero and a figure of how a lawyer should really be.
The story sets itself in a small town in Alabama – Maycomb – which appears to secluded from the rest of the country and seems to be self-sufficient. The novel presents itself in two parts – the first part deals with the children’s innocent games, such as trying to make Boo Radley come out as they want to get to know him. Jem and Scout befriend Dill, who has come to spend the summer with his aunt. The first part of the novel acts as a precursor of what is to happen in the second part and how the innocence shown in this shown in this section is bitterly taken away from them.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Scout and Jem are two wonderful and memorable characters that will etch into your mind after you read the novel. Scout is a brave, tom-boy girl and has a basic moral of what is right and wrong. This can also be seen in Jem – a brave one yet so sensitive at the same time. Once the trial is over, we can see how vulnerable he has become and how he has lost faith in the system that he once believed in – he has become disillusioned in some aspects. His character is the most enduring and one becomes disheartened when Jem cries over the loss of human reasoning and the racial intolerance that we see and encounter in the novel. Both of them, Scout and Jem, mature over the novel and this is over termed as ‘Bildungsroman’ [it means the maturation of the character over the course of the novel and also the physical growth of the character in terms of age. For example, we see it in Jane Eyre. Jane Eyre begins with a child Jane and ends with a woman Jane.]
The novel uses various supernatural elements which heighten the issues that Lee deals with in the novel. This can be seen most evidently while the children try to recreate how Arthur ‘Boo’ Radley looks like. By addressing him as ‘Boo’, it not only brings in the child-like innocence but it also brings in the mysteriousness of Arthur Radley and his past. Such usages of the supernatural elements have come to be known as the ‘Southern Gothic’ style. It is also able to effectively bring out the two most important themes of the novel – racial injustice and destruction of innocence. It can also be seen that Lee also addresses the issue of class, courage, compassion and gender roles in the Southern United States [not South America. It’s also called the Deep South or even the Dixie.]
It is one of the most engaging novels that I have read in the recent past. It has convincing characters, deals with a real life issue which still is a prominent issue albeit to a much lesser degree to that of the 1930s Southern United States, fights injustice through law and more significantly teaches us to be considerate, be conscious of equality and justice.
“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy . . . but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
It is a simple read and it is a must read for all literature buffs and those who love American Literature. Although it was her only published novel, Lee continues to inspire many through her novel which talks of courage, justice and equality and some way epitomizes the American ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which are the ‘unalienable rights’ of every American citizen.
Overall Rating: 9/10
If you find the book interesting, buy from Amazon or Flipkart here:
Pooja is an unusually quiet and quirky lady. She is gentle yet quick on her words. She loves her books and is a big fan of Harry Potter. Books are her besties and she loves them just as she loves her family and friends.