To Kill a Mockingbird - Novel
Every time I think of the American high school literature pantheon, I always think of it as being divided into two groups: one being any one of Shakespeare's classic stories, and the other being made up of The Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, Lord of the Flies, and the next book I finished up just recently, To Kill a Mockingbird.
Much like The Catcher in the Rye (which is my all-time favorite book, I might add), this is also a very intimate, very well-told, and very well-woven coming-of-age story. Parts of it feel episodic, but the whole story focuses on the blindness and futility of prejudice and the consequences of racism, all seen from the eyes of a little girl, Scout Finch, her elder brother, Jem, and in certain cases, their neighbor and best friend, Dill, to break it down for us.
Scout, Jem, and the father, Atticus, represent the essence of adjusting to reality and doing the right thing. There's only one thing they each have that makes them special, however.
- In the case of Scout, Jem, and Dill, their attempts to have Boo Radley come out of his house were intended as either dares or to accommodate and meet him. This has shown that beneath their innocence, they're no strangers to prejudice, even though being prejudicial was never literally their intention.
- In the case of Atticus, he defended an African-American man when he was framed for a crime he didn't commit, all because he knew in his heart that this was the right thing to do. At the same time, he was aware that this was a huge risk for him to take by societal standards, especially as a lawyer. Needless to say, he still kept pushing forward to prove this man's innocence, leading to Atticus making a speech in court that is powerful, spine-chilling, hard-hitting, and very true, especially with today's American society.
As part of the book's message against racism and prejudice, it also does a good job of showing us that there can be more to certain people than meets the eye. And I don't mean just Boo Radley and what he turns out to be. Cases in point; when Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose, a grouchy neighbor, asked Jem to read to her for a few weeks, he and Scout learned that she was not quite as grouchy as they initially thought of her. And later, their fight against racism started when they went to mass in an African-American church with their friend, Calpurnia. There, they're introduced to a hidden, more realistic community that may have had more in common with the white community than they could've believed.
This leads to what the book also did best: provide subtle commentaries about the effects of the Depression on the Alabaman community. They are portrayed through the lifestyles of the Cunningham family and the Ewell family, which, by extension, puts their adjustments in relation to that era on polar opposite pillars. The Cunninghams paid their friends back for certain deeds with a variety of materials, including bags of potatoes - although this was portrayed as more of a gesture of good will than as alternate payment - while the Ewells lived in a dumpster, were ill-educated, and loved to cause some chaos in town for more minor reasons.
While calling this my second favorite book would be a slight stretch at this point, I still really love this book, and I couldn't have been happier to have dug through what is considered by many to be a staple in American coming-of-age allegories. So, 'in the name of God, do your duty'... and track this book down when you have a chance. It's part of America's high school literature pantheon for a reason.
Originally published on Facebook, January 9, 2017