I have been fascinated by the book, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee since I first heard about it as a teenager. However the unavailability of the same in our school library and the local bookstores, never allowed me to read this classic until recently.
What had initially attracted me to this book was its title. I was curious to know what it meant in a larger perspective. I was inquisitive about what made this book a monumental success in the fiction genre.
I had to read it. The final push came while reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic where Gilbert expresses her love for the book and also her fascination why a gifted author like Harper Lee never published any other book after this masterpiece.
I finally read the celebratory edition that marks the fiftieth anniversary of this unforgettable classic.
To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel by Harper Lee published in 1960. It was immediately successful, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and has become a classic of modern American literature.
The plot and characters are loosely based on the author’s observations of her family and neighbours, as well as on an event that occurred near her hometown in 1936 when she was 8 years old.
The blurb on the back of the book reads:
‘Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’
A lawyer’s advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee’s classic novel – a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with exuberant humour the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s.
The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina of one man’s struggle for justice. But the weight of history will only tolerate so much.
Why should every adult read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee?
- It’s a book set in 1930’s yet is not obsolete: The plot of the book is fun, appealing yet profound and thought-provoking. The book made me laugh on several occasions, reminisce my own childhood on the other and made my heart cringe or come close to tears at others. The joy of reading this book lies in the fact how the parent in Atticus Finch gently rounds off every event with his wise words or moves. Set in a society that lived almost eighty years ago, the beliefs and principles followed by the Finch family are fresh, liberated and open-minded, relevant even in current times.
- Pragmatic conversations: The beauty of the book lies in the easy flow, matter-of-fact conversations that at no point leave the realms of truthfulness and never come across as a pretence. I love how in the voice of Scout (an 8-year-old girl) the sincerity and innocence rises above everything. Moments when children get involved in fist fights or utter expletives in moments of rage, the adults in the family have come around explaining firmly yet reassuringly why they should behave otherwise.
- Quintessential characters: Be it the wise father in Atticus Finch or the scary neighbour in Radley(s) or the moral values indoctrinating aunt Alexandra or the motherly caretaker Calpurnia or the evil Ewell, every character is archetypal. Every character is sketched close to reality yet inimitable that they’ll make you wish to be like them or be inspired by them.
- It portrays phases of child growth wonderfully: The book has three child characters ranging in ages between 8 years to 12 years. The book is an innocent, sensitive portrayal of their growing up, the emotional, physical and psychological changes they undergo as adolescence steps in, captured in a natural, closer-to-life fashion. The joys, playfulness, pranks, curiosity and ironies of childhood generously season the entire length of the book.
- Atticus practices what he preaches: Atticus Finch a lawyer by profession is a single parent who knows how to lead his children by example. Though he comes across as rather reserved, his love for reading is exemplary and how his children follow suit is something you cannot miss. His caring, gentlemanly ways, his way of letting his children go by their instincts, disciplining them (incident with Mrs Dubose) and teaching valuable life lessons like an unflappable parent are heartening. I loved how he never tried to sugarcoat facts and never hid life’s harsh realities from his children. The freedom he gifts his children while keeping his criticisms and appreciation subtle only add to the plethora of reasons why every parent must read this book.
- Relevance to current times: Its heart wrenching that racism, cruelty, prejudices and discrimination talked about in the book, still exist and shockingly in the same ugly magnitude or perhaps in a more severe form.
- Sensitivity: The plot deals with the incident of rape of a white woman by a dark man. But the sensitivity with which the trial is narrated and also the open-mindedness with which the events are discussed by Atticus with his children from time to time is comforting, stirring and commendable in one go.
- Lucid Narration and rich vocabulary: Written fifty years ago and set in a period almost eighty years ago, the writing style is arguably old-fashioned yet unambiguous. The rich vocabulary, keeps the reader going back to the dictionary, more so in the first half of the book, than latter. However, the narration never loses pace, the plot is packed with surprises and most wonderful lessons to be learnt from the most (seemingly) banal situations.
- A classic that stands the test of time: Why the book is a classic can be best understood only after having read it. But, it is one that has been loved by my mother when she was 27 years old just as much when she’s 63 years old. I, harbouring a completely different taste in reading from my mother, loved this book just as much.
“‘A lady?’ Jem raised his head. His face was scarlet. ‘After all those things she said about you, a lady?’
‘She was. She had her own views about things, a lot different from mine, maybe…Son, I told you that if you hadn’t lost your head I’d have made you go read to her. I wanted you to see something about her. I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.'”
Whether you love reading classics or not, this is a book that’ll make you fall in love with its simplicity, grace and rational approach. I highly recommend this book to every adult.
“‘First of all,’ he said, ‘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.'”
The book cover has been changed many times over the past 50 years but two things that shall stay with me from the 50th-anniversary cover is Scout (the protagonist on the swing) for her thoughtfulness and innocence and Blue Jays for their brilliant correlation in the title and the plot.
About the Book:
- Title – To Kill a Mockingbird
- Curator – Harper Lee
- Publisher – Arrow Books
- Genre – Fiction
- Pages – 309
- Price – INR 399 (get the best deal on Amazon)
- ISBN – 978-0-09-954948-2
Have you read this book?
What are your views?
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