Jun 18, 2007

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

It is a little hard for me to write about this book, because the impression I have is that nearly everyone has read it, and that everything that could possibly be said about it has already been said. Still, here’s my take.

I think that what impressed me the most about this book was how very human it is. People are portrayed as people – with flaws and shortcomings and limitations, but as real people despite them, or because of them. Through Atticus Finch’s example, we are encouraged to step into the shoes of each and every one of the characters.

Another thing I loved was how accurately Harper Lee portrays childhood. I remember it feeling just like that – striving to understand the world and claiming to know more than you do, the allure of that which you cannot know, the importance of things like dares and what others think and fighting in the schoolyard and not showing you are afraid, gravitating around an older sibling and being so hurt when you are left out, daring to ask questions no one else asks.

The sense of place is very strong in this book, and this passage illustrates it clearly:
Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the court-house sagged in the square. Somehow, it was hotter then; a black dog suffered on a summer’s day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.
I suppose I could say that, through the children’s eyes, we have access to an innocent view of life in this small town, but it’s not even a matter of innocence, but a matter of rationality. Because they are children, they are more rational than adults – they look at things and see them as they are, with no preconceptions obscuring their judgement, with no fear, and they dare question and point out what so few will.

The way the story unfolds feels inevitable, but that only makes it more powerful, more real. It is easy to predict how things will turn out, and this is part of the powerful statement this book makes.

This was my first read for Maggie’s Southern Reading Challenge, and I’m very glad to have picked it up at last.

Other Blog Reviews:
Rebecca Reads
Lost in a Good Story
Tripping Toward Lucidity
Blue Archipelago
So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
Once Upon a Bookshelf
Becky's Book Reviews
Nothing of Importance
Rhinoa's Ramblings
My Year of Reading Seriously
Book-a-Rama
A Fondness for Reading
The Bluestocking Society

16 comments:

  1. Oh beautifully said, Nymeth! I especially love what you said about children being more rational than adults. I have seen the same thing in my teaching experience and that's one of the reasons I have loved working with young people, and why I particularly liked the line from the book that said:

    "So it took an eight-year-old child to bring 'em to their senses..."

    ReplyDelete
  2. I am trying to not read your review as I still haven't read this book! I will try and read it by the end of the year as I have been meaning to for ages! I read enough to know you liked it which will do for me :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is one of the few books I remember enjoying back in my high school english class, but I haven't read it again since then. After reading your review, I'm seriously thinking I need to reread this book. Thanks. :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. One of the best books. I read it for 8th grade and back then, when I never re-read books at all except maybe my Tolkien, I'd re-read To Kill a Mockingbird. So glad you've discovered it for yourself.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Robin: thank you. I love that line as well. As my boyfriend pointed out when reading this post, there is a quote by one of my favourite musicians, Joanna Newsom, that expresses what we're saying about children perfectly:

    "I think they're a lot braver than we give them credit for, because they're willing to look straight at a thing that's big and sad and beautiful, that is too much for us to look at when we're a little older. And I guess when I write songs, I'm trying to write them from the place in myself that's childlike. But not childlike simplistic, childlike in the opposite way, that kind of bigness of awareness that kids have."

    Rhinoa: it's a bit of a relief for me to know I'm not the only one who took so long to read this one. I'm quite sure you'll like it!

    Court: Do! I think this one is definitely worth revisiting.

    Imani: I'm very glad I finally discovered it too. And I'm very glad Maggie is hosting the Southern Reading Challenge, as it gave me the extra encouragement I needed.

    ReplyDelete
  6. One of my favorite books ever! And right now, I feel like all those droopy, wilty people, because it's so HOT today.

    ReplyDelete
  7. You are not alone. I have never read this classic either but that will be remedied with the Book Awards Challenge. I have heard so many lovely things about it.

    ReplyDelete
  8. To Kill A Mockingbird has to be one of my favourite books of all time.

    I agree with you on how the book takes things through children's eyes - through the rationality that is possible because as children, they have no preconceptions and fear.

    At one point in the book, Dill is outside the courtroom and he's crying. And it is said, that it's good that his experience has not caught up with his emotions. When we grow up, our experience change us, and how we see the world changes too. The world just becomes more complicated. And perhaps less honest.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Wonderful review, Nymeth! I read To Kill a Mockingbird many years ago, but it has stayed with me all this time. I completely agree about the humanness of the book--it's a great book that definitely stands the test of time.

    ReplyDelete
  10. dewey: it is now one of mine too!

    petunia: I'm sure you'll like it! I look forward to your review of it.

    dark orpheus: I LOVED that bit with Dill. It was one of my favourite parts.

    literary feline: thank you! And yeah, I think this is one that will stay with me as well.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I understand what you mean about writing reviews about books so many others have already read, but I must say you did a wonderfully beautiful job! This is one of my all-time favorite books, and you reminded me of some of the reasons why. It's been a while since I last read it, but I've got it on my Southern Reading list...and now I'm looking forward to it more than ever!

    ReplyDelete
  12. >> Ladies bathed before noon, after their three o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum ... <<

    This line has been much on my mind lately, as the weather has been so hot!

    I dearly love this book. It is one of the books that made me who I am today. The child's eye view, as you point out, is marvellous, but the wry, dry humor ("The neighbors seemed satisfied: they all stiffened") is noted all too seldom. Likewise, everyone notes Atticus' wisdom, but few mention that Miss Maudie is equally important.

    I always cry twice toward the end: once when Scout realizes the identity of the man who has rescued them, and again at Atticus' final affirmation: "Most people are, Scout, once you get to know them."

    ReplyDelete
  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Thank you Debi! I love the fact that so many people are reading this book for the challenge. It'll be good to see what different people feel when reading it, the different things they'll find more memorable, etc.

    chomiji, I loved Miss Maudie. I had guessed the identity of the rescuer beforehand, but that didn't make the moment any less powerful.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Classics. Both the movie and the book. Once I picked it up, I couldn't put it down. Everyone should read this book once in their lifetime. This edition is nice. I really like the cover too.I am one of those who like to judge the print, if not the book, by the cover.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Thank you Debi! I love the fact that so many people are reading this book for the challenge. It'll be good to see what different people feel when reading it, the different things they'll find more memorable, etc.

    chomiji, I loved Miss Maudie. I had guessed the identity of the rescuer beforehand, but that didn't make the moment any less powerful.

    ReplyDelete

Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.