A Book Review
Author: Harper Lee
Year Published: 1960
Genre: Southern Gothic, Bildungsroman
It wasn’t so long ago that on one of my usual Netflix and chill days that I came across a movie named Capote. I watched it because it is based on real life author Truman Capote, who wrote the iconic novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s (who doesn’t love some Audrey Hepburn in the little black dress) published in 1958, and true crime novel In Cold Blood (1966). And while being regaled by the extraordinary performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman it occurred to me that his tag along best friend in said movie is none other than the soon to be author Harper Lee! No… not the actual author herself, who lead a rather private life, but another actress portraying her character. I had no idea that the two authors had known one another, let alone were long time childhood friends. It was ironic as at that particular moment I had already decided that for this issue and its theme of fathers, I would be reviewing her novel To Kill A Mockingbird. Talk about synchronicity.
If you did not have to take up serious studious introspection with this novel in high school, where were you? Between The Outsiders and The Crucible, To Kill A Mockingbird was one of the novels in my study materials that for some reason I could just never forget. Despite my enjoyment of many stories as a youngster and despite it being pegged as a young adult novel and studied worldwide in secondary education institutions, this novel, like Animal Farm, is definitely a piece of artistry that has to once again be divulged with adult eyes, and like a painting hanging off the wall of a revered museum or gallery, the longer you look at it the more its essential shapes and forms change to the reader.
To Kill A Mockingbird was published in the year 1960, but Lee had been working for many years over the manuscript, reworking draft after draft until its eventual publication. The novel is quasi biographical, and loosely based on her life growing up in the Southern town of Monroeville, Alabama, as well as an occurrence near there in 1936 when Lee was only the age of 10. Publishers only expected marginal success of the book, stating that it would only sell several thousand copies. Lee herself expected little if any success off the project. The novel is now regarded as a classic of modern American literature, has a feature film, several plays as well as winning the Pulitzer, is listed as one of the books to read before you die, and as I have already mentioned is taught worldwide in many educational institutions.
Considering the books themes and subjects it has not come without its share of controversy. Alongside the lighthearted novelty of youthful abandon in the lives of the Finch children, and the upright fearless hero Atticus Finch our protagonist, who we will be getting to soon, the novel deals greatly with the subject of racism, classicm and gender equality. Having read the novel, one will note Lee’s straightforward use of distasteful racial epithets and there have been a few cries to have it removed from learners classrooms. It was not the first time however that Lee had dealt with such subjects, as years before while in her tertiary education Lee wrote many stories with racial injustice as themes during a time when nobody really spoke about the problem in college. Her use of racial epithets can still be debated, as some would argue it fits the time. Today however I want to focus more on the courageous father of the Finch siblings and lawyer, Atticus Finch.
So let us get to a quick synopsis of the novel with as little spoilers as possible. Set during the years of The Great Depression, widowed Atticus Finch, father of Jean Louis (Scout) and Jeremy (Jem) is appointed as the lawyer of defendant Tom Robinson, a young black man being accused of raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell. Despite the obvious backlash that would come with such an offer, Atticus accepts and thus the family is taunted by the community. During all this the siblings along with their neighbor Dill preoccupy themselves with their secret neighbor Arthur “Boo” Radley. Despite Scouts growing anger at the abuse her father discourages her against retaliation. Mob mentality ensues, but despite the dangers Atticus stands up for his client in question, and will not be swayed, vowing to prove the innocence of Robinson. All the while, as they still explore the ease and warmth of growing up the Finch children are exposed to the darker side of human nature, as well as learning courage and empathy from their heroic father.
Atticus Finch has as a result been regarded as the quintessential hero. Despite being a single father, in the most gentle way possible he tries to instill in his children immense capacity for tolerance and compassion, teaching them when to not fight and when one does take a courageous stand, how to do it in an honorable way. During a time when racial inequality and classicm was high, with Americans hating other fellow Americans (The Grapes Of Wrath coming soon) Atticus Finch going against all odds, considering that the law in those days was undoubtedly not favorable to any race of colour, is such an outstanding feat. One leaves the book with a sense of every well developed character being real, and that Scout and Jem must have grown up to be two outstanding individuals. Written from a child’s point of view, but veiled lightly by an older woman’s wisdom, I feel this is a novel that still speaks so true, unfortunately to our modern times. It’s been almost 60 years since the novels publication, and yet gender and racial inequality still exists in many places, shapes and forms. Reading the book once again as an adult has allowed the book and these themes to intertwine with my own observations and life experiences. I understand now more than ever the powerful attributes of Atticus as the lawyer, the hero and the father. I didn’t know the true meaning of empathy until Atticus explained it is putting on another person’s shoes and walking in it.
Considering this novel IS listed as a book to read before you die, well, I rest my case. You don’t really have much of a choice. You have to read this novel. Clear concise language, warm and filled with beautiful moments as well as very sad moments, I could read this classic one thousand times over, and understand why the author of the masterpiece never published another original novel again.