The true university these days is a collection of books.
-Thomas Carlyle

Sunday, 12 September 2010

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I must be one of only a handful of book bloggers who have not read this book...until now. We did do some chapters at school, but not the whole book. It was time to correct this and complete my 'read another American classic' category in my directional reading challenges for this year.
The story is told through the point of view of 2 children, Scout and Jem in the Deep South during the 1930's, and the lead up, during and aftermath of a trial where there father, Atticus, is defending a young black man accused of raping a white girl. Racism, class and childhood are all explored during this episode of their lives.
The story is told with warmth and humour, and a lot of the first part of the book follows their childhood games, curiosities, schooldays, friendships and rivalries. Because it is told from the childrens point of view, particularly Scout the youngest daughter, we are given a nostalgic take on the other characters, quirky neighbours, poorer class mates and the tales and adventures we all recognise from when we were younger. The adult world of court rooms, prejudice and politics are recounted as an interjection in their lives, and with an incomprehension that we as adult readers can share with them. Their simplistic view of the proceedings makes the adult complexities seem absurd at some points. However, the wisdom and kindness of their father, a literary hero of famous proportions, is a joy.
Like so many other readers, I loved this book. I was surprised by how much of a back seat the trial took, especially during the first part. I enjoyed the humour and the Deep South accents, and those important times during a young persons life where games overtake reality, in a way that makes them just as real. I also found that the lessons within it were not rammed down your throat.
While reading around the internet about this book, obviously most people speak with affection about it, but I found more than a couple of comments saying it was the most racist and unsavoury book ever written. I am glad that there are a variety of views but I feel these people have missed the point and I cannot agree. The story contains the views of some racist characters during a much earlier era, to which the book is sympathetic and consistent. In highlighting the racism that was rife at the time, where black Americans were easy targets for abuse and exploitation, the book brings attention to the injustices of the past in a balanced way, and this is important historically as well as a sociologically. It is also entertaining and very human and it is clear to me why this book is so highly regarded.
This year celebrated the 50th anniversary of this influential and much loved novel and there is a dedicated website for To Kill a Mockingbird 50th anniversary, just click the link.


Jeane said...

I am glad the trial stuff was mostly background to the story; when I read it as a young teen it was much easier to see things through Scout's eyes. It never occurred to me to think of the book as racist; I just assumed it was portraying attitudes of the time. I love the cover you posted, it's one I never saw before, and very artistic!

Leah said...

Thanks for your comment Jeane, I specifically chose that cover from the many available because I liked it too. I was shocked at the comments about it being racist too. Thanks for dropping by.

Hay on Wye

Hay on Wye