I have finally (!!) read To Kill a Mockingbird, after it had waited on top of my to-be-read list for years. Books with so much history sometimes feel a little difficult to open and dive into – how do you meet something so much has been written about, that has been praised so often, without expectations? I guess you can’t. That is probably why I struggled with the first third of Lee’s writing. I found it slow, difficult to get into and did not love the style of narration, but the speed picked up and of course this little book is filled with so many important lessons, how could you not be impressed by it? Instead of writing a whole summary and review of a book so many have already read, I want to write about the 5 things I loved most about To Kill a Mockingbird.
What delighted me from the beginning – even before I got into the rhythm of Lee’s writing – was the humour of this book. And particularly the humour of the children. The scene of Scout’s first day of school had me laugh out loud several times. Rather than children, these characters appear to be shrunken grown-ups and I found them adorable.
Speaking of children, I was absolutely enchanted by Jem and Scout’s relationship. The love, tenderness and respect between the siblings is heart-warming. It is beautiful to read two characters who take care of each other in the way the Finch children do. While their relationship is in many aspects a typical brother-sister bond – he bosses her around, she believes every word he says – there is a gentleness between them that I could not get enough of.
Lee has a way of creating characters that are archetypes, ever so slightly overdrawn to become representative, and yet feel completely authentic. Each neighbour becomes a model for a lesson Atticus Finch teaches his children, and still they are so much more than mere examples. Even the ones we just briefly meet feel fleshed out with flaws and virtues, and shoes to step into – as Atticus likes to remind us.
What makes this novel so successful, I believe, is the clever way in which Lee teaches her lessons. Represented by the individual characters and confronted from both the perspective of children and that of adults, topics such as the absurdity of racism, the need for tolerance, the power of empathy, the significance of human decency and the need to stand up and fight in the face of injustice are made obvious and digestible. The way in which she contrasts kindness and cruelty, comedy and tragedy, innocence and guilt, love and hatred enables paves the way for the reader to develop his own moral judgment, gently guiding us towards tolerance for anyone – the accuser and the accused. Additionally, the narrative makes a full circle and summarises all the lessons of the book in the trope surrounding Boo Radley, exemplar for redemption and courage, for the need to keep an open mind.
Finally, who could not love Atticus Finch. He is of course the ultimate role model. And excellent father, a true gem of a person and still real. Still imperfect. Most astonishing is his desire to do the right thing, whatever obstacle he may face in this quest, and to meet anyone with kindness. We need more people like him!
"They're certainly entitled to think that, and they're entitled to full respect for their opinions... but before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."