Tuesday, August 5, 2008

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee 1961

Harper Lee wrote one novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, and it won the Pulitzer prize in 1961. Its themes still resonate with readers and her novel has become a part of our culture. That, I believe, is success.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee almost perfectly captures the main challenge of growing up: realizing human nature, both good and bad.

(I say "almost" perfect because I am sure there are faults in the novel, but I love this novel so much that I don't want to search for them.)

To Kill a Mockingbird follows Scout Finch from age 6 to age 9 in the midst of the Great Depression in rural Alabama. Scout is a tomboy in overalls but is expected to be a little lady. She sees many opposites in the people around her: not as poor versus very poor, boy versus girl, old town residents versus newcomers, drunk versus sober, kind versus mean, and, underscoring it all, black versus white.

And yet, in her eight-year-old wisdom, Scout observes:
Naw, Jem, I think there's just one kind of folks. Folks. (chapter 23)

When Scout and her older brother are given air rifles for Christmas, they are told they can shoot at anything but mockingbirds:
Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird. (chapter 10)

Scout learns by experience that people often disregard such obvious advice in terms of how they treat each other. To Kill a Mockingbird is honest yet beautiful examination of how we all look at each other. Why do people judge and hurt those who "don't do one thing" to harm the world around us? Why do people bring heartache on the helpless? Why are people prejudiced?

Through Scout's young eyes, I was reminded of how important it is for me to avoid judging others "until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." She also helped me see what it means to be a neighbor.

As it has been said before, in To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee has really said everything that needs to be said. I say, if she didn't write any other novel, that is her business. Writing "only" one book doesn't make that book any less powerful or her skill any less impressive.

I plan on rereading it again. And then again. It's that good.

Originally published on Rebecca Reads in slightly different form.

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