“Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
Atticus Finch gives this advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of this classic novel – a black man charged with attacking a white girl. Through the eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores the issues of race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s with compassion and humour. She also creates one of the great heroes of literature in their father, whose lone struggle for justice pricks the conscience of a town steeped in prejudice and hypocrisy.
WHEN I Discovered This Classic
I first read To Kill a Mockingbird in August 2010 and was looking forward to coming back to it nearly five years later. It was one of the few classics I had read at that point (although I was doing well that summer, having also just read A Clockwork Orange and The Great Gatsby). I’m not sure how I discovered it. It’s another classic that I feel I’ve always known, but photos and quotes from the book kept popping up on Tumblr, so perhaps that’s what spurred me to read it for the first time.
WHY I Chose to Read It
I have wanted to re-read To Kill a Mockingbird for a while (and it’s about time I picked up a book for the Re-Read Challenge!). I picked it to be my June classic because I wanted to make sure I read ahead of Go Set a Watchman, the newly discovered sequel set 20 years after the events in To Kill a Mockingbird. I’ll also be watching the film adaptation this evening!
WHAT Makes It A Classic
Even if you’re already aware of the tensions that occurred in the Deep South during the 1930s (and continued through to the 1970s), To Kill a Mockingbird brings history to life in a compassionate and memorable way.
To Kill a Mockingbird is part coming-of-age novel and part cautionary tale about race and class, and the injustice that often comes with it. It’s an example of how foolish – and certainly persistent – prejudice is, especially when two young children can see the absurdity of it more than their adult counterparts. Even so, Scout and Jem are guilty of making judgements about people themselves and are taught to recognise this by their father, Atticus Finch.
To Kill a Mockingbird still has a lot of offer 50 years after publication. From the mystery surrounding Boo Radley and seeing Scout and Jem begin to better understand the intentions of the people in their small-town community, to the powerful case of Tom Robinson and the defense trial spearheaded by Atticus Finch, it still packs an emotional punch.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
WHAT I Thought of This Classic
I am relieved to say that I loved it even more than when I read it the first time. I am always worried that I won’t enjoy a book the second time around, especially if it’s a favourite. But thankfully To Kill a Mockingbird holds its own.
As I read many more children’s books now than I did five years ago, I appreciated and enjoyed Scout’s voice even more, although she was always my favourite character. She vividly retells the events in To Kill a Mockingbird as an adult, reflecting upon them as experienced as a young child. I love Scout’s curiosity, humour and confidence, and I adore her complex and thoughtful relationships with everyone around her. I enjoy inquisitive characters and Scout rarely accepts what she’s told as fact – especially when it’s demanded that she has to stop reading and writing!
Even thought I already knew the outcome of To Kill a Mockingbird, it didn’t stop me from hoping and feeling the frustration and injustice that is felt by Atticus, Scout, Jem and Dill. It didn’t stop me from being unable to put the book down.
“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing”.
WILL It Stay A Classic
I do hope so. It’s just turned 55 years old, so it’s still a ‘young’ classic, but I doubt (sadly) that many of its lessons will stop being relevant in the future. My only worry is that Go Set a Watchman won’t live up to its predecessor, but I’m still looking forward to heading back to Maycomb. You can read the first chapter here.
“I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.”
WHO I’d Recommend It To
People who love books from the point of view of a child. People who love Taylor Swift (because it’s her favourite book!). People who want to delve into modern classics. People who love history.