Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird
There couldn’t have been a more apt title to this book of rare excellence. Halfway through the book even I was pondering that how does a mockingbird fit into the story, but then when I discovered the meaning as I was leafing through the last part, I was flooded by that overwhelming sensation. No wonder it is a popular classic. I want you to experience that same rush, so I’m going to do you the favor of not discussing the title any more.
When something touches me as deeply as this one did, I fail to contain myself and rant about it until someone stops me. And the good thing with blogging is that, this baby doesn’t ever ask me to shut up. So here I go on spilling out whatever I feel my readers should know. You may question my taste for tragedies or feel-good books, but trust me when I tell you that it’s a novel of substance. You just HAVE to read this. Since its original publication in 1960, it has continued to play its charm on millions of readers worldwide. It has been translated to more than 40 languages, sold more than 30 million copies, has been turned into a successful movie, voted as the best novel of 20th century across the United States of America and has won the Pulitzer award.
Right after I was done with the book I looked up Harper Lee to find more of her works and was both astonished and devastated by the fact that it is the only one. But who cares that it is the only one, when it is enough to hook you up every single time you read it. I read it two times back to back and both times I fell in love with it in completely different ways. I hate it when such great books are stolen of their originality by the movie makers but I sure as hell don’t want this one to face any injustice. The movie better be detailed and step up to my expectations. It’s a novel that holds a great significance even today. Racism is a curse that continues to prevail in various corners of the Globe. And we are in need of more people like Atticus who don’t judge people by their color and believe in fighting for the black and the white equally. Justice needs to be done to people facing atrocities in different walks of life merely because of the labels they are born with. Color being the worst of those absurd labels.
WARNING: Spoilers ahead.
It is not just racism that has been the primary theme of this book. Parenting, children’s psychology, humanity in general has been the focus of Lee. Full of beautifully woven characters, this is a very realistic story which no doubt has been lived by many. Atticus is an honorable man of about 50, single father, lawyer and most importantly a honest human who defies the norms set by the society and struggles to impart to his children the importance of being a good human being. Just that. Untampered. Impartial. Human beings.
The scene is based in the Maycomb County, a part of the silent Southern region. “A tired old town” as the author speaks of it.
The narrator is Scout, a girl about nine years old, whom I found as the most fascinating character portrayed in the book. Constantly being in the shadow of her brother Jem (4 years her senior) her features are not much “lady-like”. I couldn’t help laughing and relating to the same words that were thrown my way by random relatives when I was a kid. Don’t sit like that, don’t dress like that, don’t eat like that, don’t talk like that, don’t laugh like that. God, I don’t even remember so many don’ts.
Dill is a friend of Jem, and for Scout he is apparently the love of her life. Having a very active imagination these three kids never cease to amaze the readers. Their funny endeavors, which they carry out indeed very seriously, often land them into troubles that they did not expect. The Radley place is the object of their constant attention. And me being fortunate enough as a kid who had a very active imagination ( what Jem was to Scout, my sister was to me) I too had a certain curiosity and fear associated to a huge rotting building in the neighborhood, which I came to find later that was no haunted house. In fact was occupied by normal human beings and most surprisingly one of my sister’s classmates. I was happy to be finally going to that place to play, but I never stopped imagining ghosts lurking in the place. Boo Radley (whose actual name is Arthur Radley) is the ghost for these kids. Having never seen the man out of the confines of his house ever since their birth, the children had a good enough reason to let their imagination run wild and decide for themselves the looks and nature of the Radley under question. When asked by Dill, “Jem gave a reasonable description of Boo. Boo was about six-and-a-half feet tall, judging from his tracks; he dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch, that’s why his hands were blood stained-if you ate an animal raw, you could never wash the blood off. There was a long jagged scar that ran across his face; what teeth he had were yellow and rotten; his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time.” What do you say to that? Overly active imagination. Isn’t it? Miss Rachel Haverford, Miss Maudie, Mrs. Dubose, Aunt Alexandra(who came to live with Jem, Scout and Atticus at a temporary arrangement while he was on a case), even their cook Calpurnia kept pointing it out to them to help them grow into a sophisticated gentle man and lady.
Another short term but significant character is uncle Jack. After having a conversation with Scout he faced a huge turmoil and went to Atticus to share his fear.
“I shall never marry, Atticus.”
“I might have children.”
Atticus said, “You have a lot to learn, Jack.”
“I know. Your daughter gave me my first lesson this afternoon. She said I didn’t understand children much and told me why. Atticus, she told me how I should have treated her-oh dear, I’m so sorry I romped on her.”
It was a very touching scene for me. A girl of nine, who was parented by a man who had shown her ever since her birth that her views mattered, made a grown up man realize that he was wrong. She believed that she had a say; she had the right to put forth her opinion as an individual at such tender age. And a thousand applauds to Atticus who raised her in that way. While in reality most of the parents don’t allow their children to make decisions for themselves, they suffer as those children grow into adults unsure about life, and incompetent in the outer world.
Even though Lee has addressed to a very serious issue in the book, she has done no bargain with the other issues of relative importance that she has touched upon. Laced with a very plausible sense of humor, the book has done justice to the issue in question.
Having discussed the appetizers and desserts, let us get back to discussing the main course. However badly I want to rant all about what happens, there won’t be left anything for you to discover. So, I’ll just portray the character that the book’s purpose was to do justice to. And story of his life is left for you to uncover. Tom Robinson is a Negro and the accused whose defendant is Atticus. Fighting for Tom is no child’s play for Atticus especially when the whole society condemns him for it. Just like a forest fire news of the case travels at a reckless speed and every soul in the community starts judging the people involved.
In the words of Atticus, “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.” And that is precisely what he did. People started calling out to him as “negro-lover” and did not give him the support he was entitled to. And yet, he fought for Tom with the best of his faculties. He saw him as a person, not as a black person. He is a character to learn a lot from. It is easy to ignore the hardships of others but you know what, it is not right. And to have a taste of what true happiness is, one must do what is right. This timeless classic teaches a lot. It is for you to get under the skin of each of the characters and walk through the story wearing their shoes. It is the kind of book that would want to read and re-read until you can be sure that it has changed you. It would be a worthwhile experience. Happy reading J