To Kill a Mockingbird

In anticipation of the excitement coming this August, Annette Ong reviews To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee!

“First of all, if you can learn a simple trick Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. 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.” Atticus Finch

Finally I have reached a goal I’ve had for ages: to read To Kill a Mockingbird. Over time, too many people to count have pleaded with me to read the book but, for one reason or another, I’ve always put it off. Now having read it, I can clearly see what all the fuss is about. It is deserving of its Pulitzer Prize and countless literary accolades.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a Southern Gothic, coming-of-age tale by author Harper Lee. It tells the story of Scout Finch, a young girl growing up in Maycomb County, Alabama. Scout and her older brother Jem live with their lawyer father, Atticus Finch. Their mother died early and they are cared for by Atticus and their housemaid Calpurnia. Together, Scout and Jem are joined by Dill, their friend who visits on school holidays; all three get up to all sorts of shenanigans while trying to stave off boredom. The novel is told from Scout’s point of view and offers a combined narrative of her experience; it floats seamlessly between the adult Scout’s memories and the direct experiences of the child Scout.

Scout’s father, Atticus Finch, is a lawyer with a heart. He is defending Tom Robinson; a black man who is charged for committing a crime against a white woman; a crime he did not commit. Most folks in Maycomb County believe this to be an open and shut case; the colour of Robinson’s skin proving his guilt even before the case has gone to trial. Atticus believes in equality, fairness and justice; he does not bow to racial prejudices and refuses to live his life like many in his County. Consequently, he instils these ideals in his children Scout and Jem, who in turn, are incensed by the inequality they witness. Through Atticus they learn compassion, courage and strength.

The novel is autobiographical and based on events in Lee’s childhood. Her father was a lawyer and a similar case was brought before the courts while she was growing up. The character of Dill is loosely based on her close friend and fellow writer, Truman Capote. Growing up together, Capote would spend holidays with Lee consolidating a long-term friendship. While a law student, Lee wrote for literary magazines, however Mockingbird was to be her only published novel; until now, that is.

Go Set a Watchman, the sequel to Mockingbird, is due for release in August 2015. The buzz surrounding the publication of Lee’s second novel (sixty years after her first) has generated intrigue and skepticism amongst her critics and fans. Lee is close to ninety years old and lives in an assisted living facility. There were fears the author was being manipulated into publishing the novel; however, the author herself put these fears to bed in a few private interviews held with those concerned. Those who were fortunate enough to meet with the reclusive author report she is clearly aware of what she is doing. Perhaps this is an indication of how important and influential Mockingbird has become; it is entrenched in the national American psyche as one of their greatest works of literature, how could a sequel possibly compare? Only time will tell.

If the quality of storytelling evident in To Kill a Mockingbird is proof of anything, I suspect Lee will have another bestseller on her hands.

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