What a great re-read. This was required reading in high school and I remember reading it, but I had little-to-no recollection of the story other than the major plot points. This re-read counts for my Back to the Classics, a bonus for my Mount TBR and The Classics Club reading challenges.
Before you read my review read the To Kill A Mockingbird review in the list of 19 Depressing One Star Reviews of Classic Literature and then once the shock has fully settled in you can come back and read my review.
As bad as the review is, it’s not necessarily wrong in many aspects; this novel is a very specific and very short novel, but I would not go anywhere near so far as the person who wrote the review. I can easily see where someone would not be impressed with the book for its slow pace, but that’s what I love about it. Lee sets the setting, and thus the book, up perfectly:
“People moved slowly then. They ambled across the square, shuffled in and out of the stores around it, took their time about everything. A Day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County.” (5)
So you can’t say you weren’t warned, I mean come on its page FIVE. However, where I disagree is the characters and their one dimension-ness according to the reviewer.
Don’t get me wrong, I can easily see where the reviewer could get that, but considering they weren’t even finished with the book and so much change occurs in the last half of the book for the main characters you have to ignore that part of the review entirely.
This book’s success clearly comes from its narrator, Scout. Scout reminds me a lot of Frankie Adams in Carson McCuller’s The Member of the Wedding (which I have not reviewed on this blog, but read in undergrad) and not just because of their tomboyish-ness or their being from small southern towns. It has more to do with their being outcasts within their own lives and challenging the expected-norms of young southern women in the 40s-60s. This is also interesting as there are a few conspiracy theories out there that Truman Capote wrote To Kill A Mockingbird and Capote and McCullers were close friends (just as Capote and Lee were childhood friends and she helped in researching In Cold Blood).
However, for me it was not the story or the characters that made this book what it is. It is the glimpse into a version of the old south similar to Gone with the Wind or many of Carson McCullers, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, Alice Walker or Jim Grimsley’s works. These authors, including Harper Lee, have written either about race relations, southern heritage, racial heritage or poverty. What Lee does so well is the cross dimensions of poverty. She profiles many types of families in poverty and how many were well off families at one point and how some were never well off. This is not a story of a rich white family and their fall from wealth, it is a story of the survival of the south, the survival of southern gentility to everyone in a time when extreme racism and segregation were the norm.
And telling their stories through the eyes of a children, often misfit children, makes these authors superb at touching on issues many adults find uncomfortable to talk about. It allows authors to explore extremely tense and controversial issues in such an open and innocent way that the reader can’t help but reflect on their own views, not to mention having children with little-to-no preconceived notions really opens up the options of how the story can end. This is incredibly poignant in To Kill A Mockingbird as we have Jem, who is on the edge of adolescence at the beginning of the story, and Scout, who is a few years away from adolescence, and at the end of the story we have Jem whose appears to have been jaded about the world having started adolescence and Scout on the verge of adolescence starting to question her childish innocence.
Recommendation: I’m sure my response made little-to-no sense, but there are so many things you can talk about when you read a major classic, especially one with such an iconic place in American literary culture. This is one of those novels I think everyone should read as an adult. I mean sure read it as a high school student, you may identify with it and love it forever (like my aunt Miriam :-D), but you may not appreciate it and should definitely revisit it as an adult.
Opening Line: “When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.”
Closing Line: “He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.” (Whited out.)
Additional Quotes from To Kill A Mockingbird
“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.” (18)
“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.” (30)
“It’s never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you.” (108)
“Naw, Jem, I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.” (227)