Context | Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1961, To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic of the modern American literature. Having heard only good things about it, I made a wish to receive it as a present from Saint Nicholas … and my wish came true ♥
Overall impression | More than depicting children’s feelings toward unfair attitudes they do not fully understand, the story gives us a glimpse into the Southern U.S.A. society of the 1930s, a society segregated by racial injustice. The plot and characters are based on the author’s observations of her family, her neighbours, and an event that occurred near her hometown in 1936, when she was 10 years old (The Telegraph, 2015).
In a nutshell | The novel tells the story of Scout, a young girl living in the fictional town of Maycomb (Alabama), in the 1930s. She lives with her father, Atticus Finch (lawyer), and her elder brother, Jem. As Atticus takes the case of a black man accused of raping a white woman, Scout and her brother experience first-hand the racist attitude of the community toward black people. Both children mature a lot during the time period depicted in the story and learn how to react to unfair attitudes they are not accustomed to.
About the bird | The title of the book definitely deserves an explanation 🙂 The metaphor “to kill a mockingbird” is explained early in the book, and refers to hurting someone (or something) who did nothing wrong and does not deserve it:
“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.” (Miss Maudie)
Through a child’s eyes | Coming to my personal impression, what I liked about this story was that even though its motif is related to racism and discrimination, there are many funny and childish moments throughout the story. For example, the scene when Scout was told by her aunt that she was not dressing appropriately:
“[..] I should be a ray of sunshine in my father’s lonely life. I suggested that one could be a ray of sunshine in pants just as well, but Aunty said that one had to behave like a sunbeam, that I was born good but had grown progressively worse every year.” (Scout)
Emotional intensity | Something I did not enjoy as much was the structure of the book, and here I refer to the dispersion of the emotional intensity I felt while reading it. As the first half of the story introduces us to the community and the relationships among the main characters, I felt that something more was needed in order to keep me fully engaged. Only in the second part the tension started to build up, with the final quarter of the book being the most interesting and exciting part of the story.
The movie | To Kill a Mockingbird was made into a movie in 1962, for which Gregory Peck (in the role of Atticus) won the Oscar for the Best Actor.
Wrap-up | Even though it might take you a while to get used to the language used in the book, I fully recommend it to readers of all ages, as there are many lessons to learnt from it. The Finch family does not only teach us the importance of fighting for equality against all odds, but also the important lesson of empathy:
“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.” (Atticus)
If you have read this book, what’s your opinion about it? Do you have any recommendations for other books with similar motives?
‘Till next time … happy reading!
PS: An earlier draft of To Kill a Mockingbird was released in 2015 – Go Set a Watchman. It tells the story of the adult Scout Finch who visits her father in Maycomb, where she is confronted with the intolerant community.
PPS: On a similar-ish topic, you can watch the recent movie Hidden Figures (2016), which tells the story of three black women who are mathematicians and work at NASA’s space program. Badass ladies!