Saturday, December 29, 2007

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee 1961

Winner of the 1961 Pulitzer Prize for Literature, Fiction, 336 pages

Initially, I was introduced to Harper Lee’s novel through the 1962 movie starring Gregory Peck. However, I had never read the book. As I wanted this reading to be as fresh as possible, I made it a point not to read anything about the book: reviews, criticisms – nothing. I wanted any impressions made, to be my own.

For me, the reason this book is deserving of the honor of a Pulitzer Prize, is the fact that Miss Lee has created a story which not only projects a strong theme of ethics and morals, but also contains subtle undercurrents of courage, loss of innocence, and prejudice (of class as well as race), which she has woven brilliantly throughout the narrative.

To Kill A Mockingbird is separated into two parts, yet they work together to illustrate the consequences of ignorance and prejudice, as well as the power of dignity and courage.

Sometimes the right choice is the hardest, and does not always lead to victory. Courage is being able to face the inevitable, even if you know from the beginning, it is a losing one. Here is where Miss Lee’s brilliance shines. It is not enough to have a parent as a role model; she has each child learn this harsh truth through personal experiences. In one of the more poignant passages in the book, Atticus explains to Jem what real courage is, “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.” (121)

One thing that surprised me the most about this book was the amount of controversy surrounding it, even to this day. But the reader must remember that within the setting and tone of the novel, it is appropriate – and I would say absolutely necessary. How can one truly understand 1935 Alabama unless one gets into the mindset of its people and the harshness of its environment?

It was not a politically correct period in American History; therefore politically correct sensibilities must be set aside when reading this book. In this novel, as in life, the goodness of men is always tempered with its opposite. The simple fact is that human nature is made up of the capacity to be ultimately kind or horrifyingly evil. But when the evil in us is faced with dignity, grace, and courage, it can be overcome.

I give this book 5 stars with the simple advisement that one take into consideration the language and subject matter and rise above it, for its message is much more important than the words used to convey it.

My full review can be found here.

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