Hello everyone! It has been too long since I have posted on here, but I feel like I’ve been quite busy. Anyhow, of course I have still been reading.
I decided to read a classic novel because I have only ever read classics for school work and no one likes to read something they are told to read. So, I thought if I choose to read a classic I would be able to see if I actually enjoy them. And I did.
A few nights ago I finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It is set in 1930s in the fictional town of Maycomb County, Alabama. The town’s inhabitants carry thoughts of the 1860s Civil War in their minds and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s is not yet upon them. Racial prejudice and injustice is still rife.
We meet a family. A father, Atticus, who is a lawyer, and his two children, Scout and Jem. As we follow two years of Scout’s life she learns a number of valuable lessons from those around her, as a result of the different circumstances in life in 1930’s America.
Nelle Harper Lee was born in 1926, Alabama. There are multiple parallels between her childhood and her novel. One of the most interesting things I’ve read is that the character, Dill, was inspired by Lee’s childhood friend and writing, Truman Capote.
Lee started writing To Kill a Mockingbird in the mid-1950s, completed it in 1957 and published the final version in 1960, just before the Civil Rights Movement reached its peak. As a result, the novel was widely popular and remains to be today.
A large part of the plot focuses on a criminal trial for a man named Tom Robinson. He is accused of raping a white woman and Atticus is called forward to defend him. He accepts the case immediately and the whole court trial becomes part of the narrative, which was the most gripping part of the book.
When Lee was young in 1931, nine young black men were accused of raping two white women in Alabama and five of the men were imprisoned. The case in To Kill a Mockingbird is very similar. Tom Robinson is accused by a women named Mayella Ewell. Although the witnesses’ explanations become more and more dubious as the trial continues and Robinson pleads innocence, the jury still condemn him as guilty.
The part of the story highlights the extent of racial prejudice in 30s America. The character of Tom Robinson is subtly build up throughout the narrative and he is clearly a man incapable of the crime for which he is charged. Lee makes a clear and powerful statement about the state of society before the Civil Rights Movement.
Scout is the daughter of Atticus. She is six when the novel starts and eight when it ends. She is an innocent. She is a keen learner, having already learnt how to read from her father’s teachings. She is also impressionable. Her ears are open to comment and opinion from Atticus and her older brother, Jem. I felt that the story was particularly effective because it was told so brilliantly from the perspective of this little girl who has a lot to learn and who is open to learning it. Since she has not yet been exposed to racism or yet fully understood it, she interprets the novel’s events in quite a different way to how an adult character might. This makes Lee’s comments on society even more prominent.
One of my favourite parts of the novel is the thread of storyline involving Arthur (Boo) Radley and the Radley house. For much of their childhood, Scout, Jem and Dill (as well as all the other children in the neighbourhood) have been scared of the Radley house. Boo Radley never goes outside and they imagine him to have a terrifying appearance and that he kills children. They dare each other to run past the house and Jem even finds the courage to go up and touch it.
However, at the end of the story when Scout and Jem run into some trouble with Mr. Ewell, the father of the woman who is testifying against Tom Robinson, Boo Radley is the one who comes to save them. The lesson of understanding people by imagining what it is like to stand in their shoes is so cleverly explored.
This quote explains another of Lee’s messages she so wonderfully intertwines throughout the events of the novel. I really enjoyed the moment where Scout acknowledged her understanding of the “to kill a mockingbird” lesson, when she says that getting Boo Radley in trouble for killing Mr. Ewell would be like killing a mockingbird.
Since these messages were such an important part of the book I thought I would share this video from Sparknotes which explains the main themes really well.
Lots of love,