“I mumbled that I was sorry and retired meditating upon my crime. I never deliberately learned to read, but somehow I had been wallowing illicitly in the daily papers. In the long hours of church – was it then I learned? … Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”
This is where I knew I found a good story. Scout is six, and attending her first day of school. She should not know how to read, she has not been properly taught. The illicit newspaper reading continues though. Scout is such a little rebel.
Fair warning, this book reflects the language and attitudes from the South in the early part of the 20th century. I will be quoting from the book, so if it bothers you, please stop reading.
Photo CC- by Chris
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, is the story of one man’s battle against racism. When a black man is accused of rape by a white woman, he can be killed for it. It is Alabama in the 1930s, and such a crime is a capital offense. Atticus Finch is a lawyer appointed by the court to defend Tom Robinson. Tom has been falsely accused, and regardless of the facts, he is going to die because a when it is the word of a white person against a black person, the white person is always right.
This story is told from the perspective of Atticus’ daughter, Scout. It explores bigotry, the class system, and events occurring in Europe. All facets of bigotry are handled calmly by Atticus, but it is his son and daughter that are hurt the most by what they see.
Photo CC- by Emil Bjerglund Pederson
When Scout hears a neighbor refer to Atticus as a “nigger-lover,” Scout asks her father about it. Atticus tells Scout why it doesn’t bother him. “…it’s never an insult to be called what someone thinks is a bad name. It only shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you.”
Though it is used to offend the one words are flung at, racism, and the slurs that accompany it, make the people who use them look poor, mean, and small-souled.
Scout also learns lessons about social class. “Somewhere I had received the impression that Fine Folks were people who did the best they could with the sense they had, but Aunt Alexandra was of the opinion, obliquely expressed, that the longer a family has been squatting on one patch of land the finer it was.”
Through the story, Scout understands that it is how a person acts that determines if they are “Fine Folks.” Despite wealth, color, and the perceptions of society, a person is only as good as he or she acts.
“Then Miss Gates said, ‘That’s the difference between America and Germany…Over here we don’t believe in persecuting anybody. Persecution comes from people who are prejudiced. Pre-ju-dice,’ she enunciated carefully.”
Scout tries her best to reconcile this statement with the truth that the white people of her town show prejudice every day. The problem is they see their views as acceptable because there is a difference of skin color. In Germany, they see white people persecuting other white people. That is what makes it bad. We see other people’s actions and beliefs as far worse than our own – even when the two are identical. This is human nature, we have a blind side, and this can happen to anybody.
Photo CC- by Michael Sarver
This book is really funny. It is troubling. It reminds us that we are all the same. It addresses a nasty side of our country’s history in context. If you want to know why it is called To Kill a Mockingbird, you have to read the book to figure it out. Oh, I should mention it is a banned book – that’s how you know it’s gonna be good.
Read about the town, about the people, about the trial and the inevitable outcome. Read about courage, poverty, strength, and death. Read To Kill a Mockingbird because it is an excellent book.