Review: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Image from Goodreads

Title: To Kill a Mockingbird
Author: Harper Lee
Genre: Classic – Historical
Series: To Kill a Mockingbird #1
Publisher: Arrow Books
DOP: 2010 (First published 1960)
Pages: 309
Rating: 4.5/5
ISBN: 978-0-09-954948-2

Synopsis on the flap:

“Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

A lawyer’s advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee’s classic novel – a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with exuberant humour the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s. The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina of one man’s struggle for justice. But the weight of history will only tolerate so much.

There are so many different aspects that are dealt with in To Kill a Mockingbird, that I find it extremely hard to pick out one and explain what I felt accurately. One of the first things that I must acknowledge, is Harper Lee’s exceptional writing style and the sublime journey she created for our main characters, Scout and Jem Finch, to grow naturally and critically in a story set against the backdrop of Southern America in the 1930s. One way she used to enhance the growing up in a rapidly growing darker background, is by using the viewpoint of a child and then, playing with said viewpoint.

To Kill a Mockingbird exists out of two parts. During the first part, the reader experiences the imaginative world that’s characteristic of children. Everything we read is centred around the games the children play with their friend Dill and how they’re desperate to solve the mystery of Arthur “Boo” Radley, a character that starts out as a monster and a ghost and then steadily changes to become more human. The events surrounding the Finch children grow darker when they first experience the despicable comments other children throw at them, a consequence of their father, Atticus, representing Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white girl.

I had to plough through that part. It focused on their shenanigans during the summer and although Boo Radley’s mystery intrigued me, it felt long, slow and boring while reading. In hindsight, I understand the importance but I almost gave up entirely as I couldn’t understand the hype. Nevertheless, there were a few lessons thrown along the way that made me appreciate the story but it wasn’t memorable yet. How glad I am that I continued, though!

What the first part lacked in tension, the second part more than answered to it. In this part, the trial arrives and the story shifts as Scout’s narrative voice decentralises from the games they play and concentrates more on the events unfolding in front of her and the frustrations she feels for having no control over the way people act. It’s during this part that Harper Lee truly showed what a brilliant writer she is by using Atticus’, probably one of the more remarkable characters in literature, sense of justice and his necessity for the truth. By keeping in mind of the time when this story takes place, Tom Robinson’s verdict doesn’t come with much of a surprise and Harper Lee knew there wasn’t any other outcome possible.

However, that doesn’t mean that this part wasn’t dripping with tension! Quite the opposite in fact! This is where I could no longer stop turning the pages as Lee created tension by slowly picking at the lies woven around Bob Ewell, the father of the girl who’s been raped. Not only do we get to see what a vile character he is, but we also start to see the hypocrisy that surrounds Maycomb society.

Just when the events from the trial start to slow down, Lee wasn’t shy to throw another matter into the story, criticizing once more the pettiness of the townsfolk by focusing on a teacher. At this particular moment, it’s clear that Lee’s approach is more about what didn’t happen and what isn’t being said, but we all know that it should have been. This approach is only successful because it is narrated from Scout’s viewpoint. While Scout might still be too young to fully understand the meaning, she knows something wasn’t right and we, being able to distance ourselves and criticise what we read and hear, know what’s been implied.

The story then whirls down towards the ending, creating once more a moment of excellent tension at Halloween before we are all reminded again that Scout is still very young. The story ends where it began and what first appeared to be a recounting of a children’s story became a critical lesson to never forget.

As you might have been able to tell, Atticus was my favourite character. For a long time, I labelled him as a secondary character, a spectator to his children’s life, but as the story continued, his presence became more and more noticeable. His way of teaching his children is honest and unique, letting them experience their own mistakes only to guide them then towards a different, more openminded answer. His belief in the truth is so strong, he would have let Jem face the justice system without a single thought – which is probably a shortcoming in his character as well as something to admire him for. He accepts his children for whom they are and tries to show that it’s not right to judge (and harm) someone when you don’t know his or her story – something the story mentions more than once.

Once you give To Kill a Mockingbird a chance to flourish, a story of social and political hypocrisy unfolds. Told from a typical but beautiful to read black-and-white perspective of a child, the reader gets to discover the duplicity of the truth in what’s unspoken but is blatantly screaming between the lines. Not only does this book deal with racism, but it also tackles subjects such as sexism, growing-up and the difference between appearances and reality. Not even the educational system gets to escape Lee’s sharp pen and if I ever had to describe her writing style, I would say it’s exceptional and brilliant, not shying away from the truth no matter how ugly it is.

However, it’s not the fact that Lee was courageous enough to tackle these themes, which must have been revolutionary at the time (and might still be at some places) that made this story so unforgettable. It’s the way she enfolded the themes, cushioning them at first as we begin the story. It’s only later, when the Finch children have to face to the repercussions of their father, Atticus, representing a black man in court for raping a white girl, that their world slowly darkens and the writing starts to show its true colours.

What are your thoughts on To Kill a Mockingbird?

Join the discussion now on the flaws of education hinted at in this book (spoilers!).

More books by Harper Lee:


3 thoughts on “Review: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee”

  1. I adore this book!! (My dog is even named Atticus. XD) Although it’s been absolutely years since I read it, and I actually borrowed the audio from the library to reread it at some point soon. xD It is a phenomenal read and definitely revolutionary for Harper Lee’s day….and kind of today? Because those themes never get old. *nods*
    Thanks for stopping by @ Paper Fury!

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