"they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird"
Most have read Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and when I started it, I actually believed I'd not read it but my memories came back as the kids infatuation with Boo Radley grew and I think it's got to be over 25 years when I did read it. So a reread it is and this makes the list of now 5 books that I've read twice with The Lord of the Rings trilogy and John Connolly's The Lovers.
To Kill a Mockingbird is of course told from the point of view of one Jean Louise Finch, a recollection in adulthood and told as though from a child's perspective, better known as scout and best described as an adorable little scamp who encounters the trials and tribulations of growing up in the depression era in the small southern town of Maycomb, Alabama.
Maycomb is depicted as a slow, sleepy place where the summer heat cripples the pace of life, the mind-set and social order of both the area and the era are explored fruitfully along with the clear cut community rules, all from a child's inclination.
I think when you sit back and look at this book, the story is simply told, deeply layered and covers a vast array of subject matter that I guess makes it perfect for most school curriculums over the years and around the world. So this is more a collection of my thoughts and what I enjoyed most about To Kill a Mockingbird.
First up the kid’s fascination with Arthur 'Boo' Radley, the gifts in the tree, the note passed that ended in Jem going back to reclaim his trousers and the first and last time Scout meets and understands the man who saves them.
'Inside the house lived a malevolent phantom. People said he existed, but Jem and I had never seen him. People said he went out at night when the moon was down, and peeped in windows.'
Jem and his relationship with Mrs Dubose, his punishment of reading to her every day after his big moment and a typical child's revenge for her comments about Atticus. Atticus of course remains polite and prudent throughout their conversations, life experience for Jem.
'I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.'
The kid’s relationship with Calpurnia, Atticus's reliance on her and the suitably annoying Aunt Alexandra, Calpurnia taking the kids to her church and their treatment there.
'Calpurnia’s tyranny, unfairness, and meddling in my business had faded to gentle grumblings of general disapproval. On my part, I went to much trouble, sometimes, not to provoke her.'
Dill Harris, how can you not like Dill, he runs away from home because he's, well, being ignored, or he's escaped being chained up in the basement. When he suddenly appears from under the bed and tells his story and what a story teller he is. This coupled with the significant moment of Jem flirting with adulthood and telling Atticus, in scout’s words breaking the final code of their childhood.
'Dill said he must drink a gallon a day, and the ensuing contest to determine relative distances and respective prowess only made me feel left out again, as I was untalented in this area.'
You've got the initial dipping the toes into school life, the actions of teachers that even now you can never agree with, I think when you grow up should you reach a time in your life when you suddenly find yourself agreeing with a teacher then congratulations you are an adult. If like me you still can't agree with them you'll always be a child at heart or maybe even a bit of a rebel. The children get into various frivolity’s, rough and tumbles exasperated by the proceedings around the court case.
Boo Radley aside the alleged rape and trial are the gripping ingredients that make the story for me, starting with the resentment the family faced, how they deal with it individually and the scene outside the jail where the kids unwittingly prevent any hostility towards their father. The court battle itself, if you can call it a battle, the questioning of the Ewells and the closing speech from Atticus. The kids perfect ideals, tainted by something they couldn't understand, alien to justice and the devastation of losing, a verdict determined more by the times and unbeknownst to them decided before a word was even spoken. And finally the sadness, despair and inability to affect the outcome surrounding the death of Tom Robinson. Compelling, gripping and many other words of similar ilk, just something you'll never forget.
The teaching of Mrs Gates and the extraordinary conversation around Hitler after the events of the trial. Very ironic coming from a supposed learned person but I suppose opinions took time to vary concerning prejudice.
'Over here we don’t believe in persecuting anybody. Persecution comes from people who are prejudiced.'
Finally the attempt on the kid’s life by Bob Ewell, saved by the intervention of Boo Radley and Scout finally meets the man they obsessed over for a short period of their lives.
'One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.'
If this were a school project, I could quite easily slip into student mode and write about run-down settings, racism, social marginalization and the malevolent occurrences that arise from poverty and depravity. And the compelling story of humanity that opened up a new understanding of the races and the importance of empathy and compassion to others.
This type of fiction spurred a genre that I love and keep returning to, one of deeply flawed characters, small towns as far from idyllic as you can get and something dark and dirty. I do like Southern gothic, noir and the like from that area.
'Mr. Finch, there’s just some kind of men you have to shoot before you can say hidy to ’em. Even then, they ain’t worth the bullet it takes to shoot ’em.'
My apologies for the massive review/summary and I think it shows that this book is a mountain in the world of literature and one I enjoyed immensely, I watched the film the following day while writing this and loved it. Every time I read this review I just had to add something more to it, this truly is a book that you just can't process enough of it in a review, there's always more to say it seems, something you've missed. School project material, you know. I highlighted what seems a million quotes in this, poignant, amusing, the lot and that says it all.
I read that Harper Lee based this book on her childhood, growing up in a small town in Alabama, Father a lawyer and herself a true tomboy, goes without saying. But my final thought goes to Atticus, much though I loved young scout and her narration, Atticus typifies the voice of calm reason and wisdom in a town set in its ways. A principled, upright member of the community, fighting against the opinion of a town but without doubt a patient and caring parent.