To Kill A Mockingbird

Published: 1960
Author: Harper Lee


The perfect novel – with the greatest literary father ever


Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird is, quite simply, the greatest novel ever written.   This story of prejudice and intolerance in the small Alabama town of Maycomb regularly features in lists of must read books and I know exactly why.  Harper Lee has (so far) only written this one novel and is reluctant to give interviews.  I can understand that.  When you’ve achieved perfection why try to justify – or better – it?

To Kill A Mockingbird is told from the point of view of six year old tomboy Jean Finch (universally known as Scout) whose father Atticus is one of the most respected men in town.  Scout, her brother Jem and their friend Dill spend idyllic days playing and making up games about their reclusive neighbor Boo Radley.  Atticus stops their games and tries to instill in the children his own sense of fairness and acceptance of all people.  This sense of fair play brings Atticus and his children into conflict with the majority of their neighbours in Maycomb when he defends a black man, Tom Robinson, accused of the rape of a white woman.  Through her experiences with Boo Radley and Tom Robinson and her observations of the town Scout learns to maintain her faith in human goodness and to treat everyone with kindness and respect.

There’s so much potential for a story like this, dealing with prejudice and racism, to be preachy, heavy, a little bit dull, worthy and frankly off-putting, but Lee avoids all these traps by the use of the incorrigible Scout as narrator.  Simultaneously endearing, infuriating, innocent and wise beyond her years Scout Finch is one of the greatest child characters ever created.  In one memorable scene she shows her bravery by standing up to the father of one of her school friends who is at the head of a  lynch mob advancing on Tom Robinson.  As for Atticus Finch, he is surely one of the great literary heroes and undoubtedly the greatest literary father ever.  An unlikely hero Atticus is a middle-aged widower, mild mannered lawyer, yet it is this very unlikeliness which makes him so heroic.  He relies completely on his own goodness.  Whether it is being the only person willing to tackle a rabid dog, challenging the racial norms of the day or being a loving father everything Atticus does is infused with integrity and heroism.  In the film version Gregory Peck portrayed Atticus so perfectly there’s a little bit of me that will always be in love with both the character and the actor.

Set in the Depression, but written in 1960 when the civil rights movement was gaining ground, To Kill A Mockingbird is a heart-felt plea for understanding and a challenge to us all to protect the weaker members of our society.

I cannot recommend To Kill A Mockingbird highly enough.  Books tend not to stay with me – I read, I enjoy, I forget.  But this book will always be important to me.  I want to believe that there’s plenty of Atticus Finches out there – brave people willing to ensure that no-one ever commits the unforgivable sin of attacking the precious and the weak in society.  I think there are, but maybe I’m just a little too much like Scout, still I can think of much worse faults to have than to think it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.

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