Even if you haven’t read the book or watched the movie, you’ve probably at least heard of To Kill A Mockingbird. This telling of social justice and moral uncertainty has grown to be one of the most influential stories of all time. Harper Lee has led a secluded life after the publication of her only novel. When asked if she’d write again, Lee said she wouldn’t, that Mockingbird told everything she wanted to be known for. Now 88, she lives in an assisted living facility, where she suffers from partial deafness, blindness and memory loss. With this in mind, it is was with great surprise that a second novel of her’s was found, a sequel for the iconic Mockingbird, Go Set A Watchman. Whatever situation you’ve read it in, most people have their own experience with the To Kill A Mockingbird.
The book is about Atticus Finch, a widowed father of two children and an unconventional hero noted for his moral integrity. His daughter, Scout, is the novel’s narrator, and gives readers a sense of what her life is like growing up in 1930s Maycomb, Alabama. Scout and her older brother, Jem, befriend Dill, a young boy who visits his aunt in Maycomb each summer. The three children are both terrified and fascinated by Arthur “Boo” Radley, their reclusive neighbor. When asked about him, adults in Maycomb are hesitant to talk about Boo. Scout, Jem and Dill all feed off each other’s imaginations by orchestrating rumors about Boo, even planning to try getting him out of the house.
The second aspect of the plot focuses on Atticus, who is a lawyer in Maycomb. Judge John Taylor appoints Atticus to defend Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a young white woman, Mayella Ewell, daughter of the town drunk, Bob Ewell. Many of Maycomb’s citizens disapprove, but Atticus agrees to defend Robinson, firmly believing he is innocent. Much of the story’s moral message weighs on Atticus’ delivery at the Robinson trial, where he delivers a speech both honest and inspiring.
People’s morals are an underlying theme of the story. It focuses on the gut instinct of right and wrong. The titular quote (from Atticus): “Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird” serves as an allegory for this message.
Some classic American novels can have writing that is outdated, with themes and dialogue dryer than old bread. To Kill A Mockingbird is an excellent novel, and a definite exception to that stereotype. Harper Lee creates a vivid environment with strong characters readers can either sympathize for or despise. I have found myself changed from the bold, uplifting uu message this book lends, so I’d suggest picking up a copy and seeing for yourself.
* Go Set A Watchman, Harper Lee’s follow-up novel to To Kill A Mockingbird, will be released on July 14. Stay tuned for the review for it.