Thursday, November 26, 2015

Classics Club 20: To Kill A Mockingbird

Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is an unforgettable portrait of racial prejudice, which gets to the heart of the issue in a way that mere facts simply cannot.

The novel begins by showing us the seemingly idyllic, although by no means perfect, summer of Jem, Scout  and their friend Dill, and the fascination the three had with the reclusive Boo Radley. It then shifts gear and clouds of racism descend as Jem and Scout's father Atticus defends Tom Robinson, a black man charged with raping a white woman. A climactic and deadly final scene forever links these two storylines.

Lee lovingly depicts life in  small town Southern America in the 1930s. The places and characters are memorably depicted - flaws and all. Even the minor characters are shown as  unique, rounded individuals through portrayals of their dialect, clothing, appearance and mannerisms.

The novel is narrated  by Scout, sometimes as a child and sometimes as an adult. Her precocious yet naive child's was especially poignant and haunting.

The imagery of the mockingbird was beautifully used to depict the  innocence of Tom Robinson, of Boo Radley and even of Mayella Ewell, Robinson's alleged victim.

Lee did such a fine job of integrating the reader into the children's world that we share their disbelief and outrage when the jury convicts Robinson, despite his obvious innocence. Even though the realistic, perhaps somewhat cynical, adult in us was never in any doubt as to what the outcome would be.

The themes of the novel leave the reader much to think about -  racism obviously but also sexism, class and social inequities,  and the way society does or does not protect it's more vulnerable members.

I also enjoyed ruminating on the role, value and use of the justice system, thoughts triggered by the novel. Tom Robinson is sent to trial and then convicted despite any convincing evidence. Yet the sheriff turns a blind eye to evidence linking Boo Radley to the death of Bob Ewell, preferring to believe Ewell fell on his own knife. Discretion was applied in the case of a white man and most readers would argue justice was served. No discretion was applied in the case of a black man and justice was obviously not served. Such issues are sadly, still all too relevant today

In brief To Kill a Mockingbird is a beautifully crafted novel that remains with the reader long after the final page has been turned.

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