Book Review : To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee
Scout Finch, a precocious six year old, lives in Maycomb, Alabama during the Great Depression. Her idyllic childhood includes playing games with her big brother, Jem, and Dill, who comes to stay next door in the summer. For Scout, memories of her mother are too dim to know if they are even real, but she has the good strong influence of the black housekeeper, Calpurnia, to help her know right from wrong as well as her father.
The children have a deep fascination and fear of their neighbor, Boo Radley, who is misunderstood by the community. Could the treasures they find in the tree be from Boo and meant for them?
Scout admires her father, Atticus, who is a lawyer. As the town becomes embroiled in the events of a trial it is natural that Scout wants to know more about what her father is doing as a lawyer on the case, especially when children at school ostracize her and Jem. The crux of the trial is that a black man has been accused of raping a white woman, though there is no evidence to support her claim. The tide of prejudice is so strong in the small community that there is no way for the accused man to receive an honest trial and judgement.
Scout looses a certain amount of her innocence through the course of the trial and the ensuing events that endanger her well being, however, she gains a greater capacity for compassion and understanding of human nature.
Adult Point of View
I grew up knowing very little of prejudice and I remember feeling incensed over the injustice of Scout’s world when I first read To Kill A Mocking Bird. I also remember I was intrigued with Boo Radley, just as the children were curious to test their boundaries concerning Boo.
Reading To Kill A Mocking Bird again, about 20 years later, has been an interesting experience. I still cannot understand the deep hatred of prejudice and felt many of my previous emotions. However, this time I have also considered the emotions of teenagers reading such raw emotions and reading about a sexually charged situation and wonder if there might not be other books to teach these same values that will not make the children so uncomfortable. When my oldest child read the book in school he felt most of it was boring (he doesn’t love reading at this point and time in his life), but even more importantly he was so uncomfortable with the accusation of rape that I think he, perhaps, missed some of the bigger issues being taught.
Inspite of my previous statements, I have to say that I still enjoy the book and feel it does deserve the title of being a classic because it explores how human beings feel, how we change, and examines all of these issues through the use of symbols, dialogue and other literary means. It is brilliantly written.
Here are a few more of my thoughts that illustrate why To Kill A Mockingbird is a great example of American literature.
This is a signature quote and a key to understanding a main theme in the novel, “Remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.
“Your father’s right,” she said. “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.”
Who in the novel could be considered mockingbirds?
Scout (as well as the other children), is a mockingbird because she has the innocence of youth. Isn’t it a tragedy to steal the innocence of children with adults’ concerns and problems? This happens frequently in our society through exposure to inappropriate media, by becoming pawns in divorce and other kinds of abuse.
Tom Robinson because he is falsely accused of a crime. He is a symbol for innocent people who are the victims of prejudice. His greatest crime was feeling sorry for a white woman.
Mayella Ewell could also be considered that she had been mockingbird whose innocence has already been destroyed by her abusive father. Are her accusations flung at Tom Robinson to condemn the man or to try to save herself?
Atticus Finch has an innocence in his belief that there could be justice for Tom Robinson, though he acknowledges the existence of class distinction, he refuses to be trapped into close-minded thinking and encourages his children to expand their view point. Atticus also epitomizes all that the wise adult should be; loving, kind, just, brave and intelligent. Can wisdom and innocence exist in the same person, or is the loss of innocence the price for receiving wisdom?
Boo Radley is the prime example of a mockingbird as pointed out by Scout. He has become a recluse, unable to be around people, because of the abuse of his father. His mind has reverted into a child-like state as witnessed by his treasures that he shares with Scout and Jem. He witnesses Mr. Ewell trying to harm Scout and knows he must act to preserve her innocence despite the foggy understanding he has of life. Boo’s child-like demeanor is emphasized when Scout gently takes his hand to lead him out of a corner, she knows that she has nothing to fear from this innocent man.
One other incident I want to mention is when the rabid dog is walking down the street, he certainly could be considered a mockingbird. This could seem to be an unrelated scene to the rest of the book, however, I would argue that it actually reinforces the main ideas. The dog is innocent and has become a danger through no fault of his own to society. This reminds me of Tom Robinson who was innocent, and has become a danger because his predicament is forcing others to examine their bias and finally is killed to protect society – though here to protect society from opening their eyes to the festering wound of prejudice. For Scout she sees Atticus as being brave in a new way when he shoots the dog. Isn’t it interesting that the dog had to be shot when Lee goes out of her way to explain why someone innocent shouldn’t be killed? But isn’t life a juxtaposition?
There are other themes and symbols that could be explored, but the point is that To Kill A Mockingbird has a timeless quality and thought provoking situations that make it a classic.
I hope you enjoy reading it.
4.5 out of 5 stars
- the Mother
Teen Point of View
I love this book. It was very serious and should only be read by older children. I thought it was very fun and charming. The plot was great and very explanatory about the problems with prejudice.
4 out of 5 stars
- the Daughter