September 15, 2014
Before reading To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, I have two bits of advice for you. One, when discussing the book, try not to get “Mockingbird” mixed up with “Mockingjay”. You will be subject to much embarrassment, like I was when I made that mistake. Two, don’t give up on it. Like a lot of modern classics, the beginning just isn’t that captivating. But I promise, the novel gets more interesting. The suspenseful parts are very few but very exciting, but beyond that, the many layers of themes and ideas in this story are amazing to consider and discuss.
The story starts in the sleepy town of Maycomb, Alabama. Scout and her older brother, Jem, live with their loving father, Atticus, a renowned lawyer. They grow up playing around their neighborhood, building forts, swimming, running races, and tormenting the town’s creepy man, Boo Radley. As Scout and Jem grow up and apart, separated by gender and age, they learn about race and how it affects their society. The family cook, Calpurnia is an educated, affectionate woman who might as well be part of the family, but because of her race, is at the bottom of the social ladder. To the kids of the area, whites had just always been superior to the black people in town.
Then Atticus agrees to defend a black man in court: Tom Robinson, accused of the rape of a white girl. Scout must learn to “be a lady” and not fistfight every child who hurls abusive words at her about her father. Throughout the course of the trial and its aftermath, the children discover how race affects the justice system. They learn about the killing of innocence, which leads Scout to seeing her world in a whole new light.
Before I read this book, and as I was reading the beginning, I thought that this was going to be a typical story about racism in the South. But I was so engrossed by the themes and motifs in the book. When we discussed the novel in English class, each student had to present a different aspect of the book (femininity, race, symbols) and lead a discussion on that topic. There are so many puzzle pieces in the book that form some brand new perspectives! Obviously, race is an important motif in the book. But Scout’s status as a girl and the virtues of cowardice and bravery are also very significant.
This book will stun you, put a smile on your face, and best of all, give you a perspective of the South in the period of the Great Depression that you’ve never imagined before.