This isn’t the first time I have read To Kill a Mockingbird. I have some fond memories of reading it in my early teens but while I remembered that I enjoyed the book I couldn’t actually remember any of the details. There were two reasons I wanted to reread it. The first is that it’s a classic and I wanted to revisit it and actually remember what happened. The second is that Harper Lee’s follow up Go Set a Watchman is out and while I really want to read it, it didn’t seem right without getting back in touch with To Kill a Mockingbird. So I suppose the question is whether my fond memories were warranted.
Six year-old Jean Louise “Scout” Finch lives in Maycomb County with her father, Atticus and older brother, Jem. Atticus is a lawyer and a somewhat older dad who doesn’t really act much like Scout and Atticus’ friends and despite having a close relationship with his children, leaves a lot of their care to his housekeeper Calpurinia.
Scout and Jem spend their summers playing imaginative games mostly involving theories about what their reclusive neighbour, Boo Radley might be up to.
Maycomb County is a traditional place where strict conventions are kept to, particularly when it comes to race relations, something that Scout discovers when Atticus is assigned to defend Tom Robinson, an African American man who has been accused of raping a white woman. As the case unfolds and the residents of Maycomb make their feelings about the Atticus’ intention to mount a proper defense Scout learns a series of lessons about life that will change her forever.
To be honest everything about To Kill a Mockingbird is perfection. Scout is an extremely lovable and affecting (if occasionally unreliable) narrator and telling the story from her perspective allows Lee to make unguarded observations from a place of naivete that wouldn’t work coming from an older, more mature narrative. Her childlike view also allows some fantastic moments of humour and many of her and Jem’s adventures are a lot of fun.
When it comes to the actual case it is a microcosm of the time period and the location and Lee manages to sum up the tragic unfairness of the South in the 30’s in a simple, direct and deeply moving manner. She addresses themes of the loss of innocence, race, class and what it means to be a good person.
Every character is developed to the point where you feel like you know them personally, with their interesting little quirks, ideas and attitudes and for the most part want to spend even more time with them. Atticus in particular reads as one of the most moral and ethical men in modern literature.
There is no question that To Kill a Mockingbird is a modern classic and although it is set 80 years ago, much of the content is still extremely relevant. If you haven’t read it or like me the last time you read it was years ago do yourself a favour and bring it to the top of your list. Lee is a master and she deserves to be read and reread now and for years to come.