I put the word “review” in quotes because I find it very difficult to put myself in any kind of position where it could even be dreamed of that I would be worthy to take apart this novel. Yes, I’ve tackled classics before (maybe someday I’ll show you all my “review” of The Great Gatsby) but this book…
There’s too much to this book. Too much history with me, too much meaning, just too much.
But I’ll try my best anyway.
I took a quiz on Facebook the other day, to tell me which classic novel I was. I got Mockingbird, and I couldn’t have been happier. Because you see, it’s always been a favorite of my parents, so I grew up with a certain affinity for it. When I was in eleventh grade, we read three amazing books and one that ruined the entire year by being awful. (I’m not a fan of Gatsby…) But the other three books were Catcher in the Rye, Fahrenheir 451, and To Kill a Mockingbird. I hadn’t read it beforehand, but was thrilled at the opportunity to finally read this book my parents loved.
And I found it wasn’t about what I thought it was. Growing up, I’d assumed it was a book about Boo Radley and the creepy house across the street from the Finch’s. Sure, if you want to boil the plot down to a single thing, I guess you could say that yes, the book is in fact about Boo Radley, but not in the way that I thought. I assumed Boo played a much more active role in more of the book, and of course, that’s not true. Boo lives, much as he does in his reality, in the background, being a constant reminder of what else lives in the city, and how good and evil are so very subjective.
It’s one of the pieces that stands out to me so much: the fact that they represent good and evil the way they do. The Radleys and Boo in specific are often talked up to be some kind of monster or demon, hiding behind the walls of the house and never speaking to anymore. They’re a mystery wrapped in an enigma covered in shadows, and that just doesn’t fly in small-town Maycomb, Alabama. Whereas we have Mayella Ewell and her father Bob, who are brought up as (mostly) good members of society. Bob’s the town drunk, sure, but they’re members of white society, and in that time and age the fact that Mayella was claiming a black man raped her was a big deal. But as we can see, the Ewells are very bad people, and Tom and Boo remain heroes of their own sorts.
Atticus Finch is also quite possibly one of the best characters ever written into the fiction world. I can’t precisely tell you what is so perfect about Atticus, but in many ways what I love best about him is that he is so incredibly real. He has emotions and doesn’t know how to express them. He is raising two growing and rambunctious children on his own and doesn’t know how to handle them. He tries and tries to do the right thing, defending Tom Robinson in court, and sees no profit from it. But he tries, and he is shaken when the court system does him wrong. There is a wonderful moment in the movie, if not the book, when Atticus is walking out of the court room after the trial, and the person (I believe a black person) next to Scout nudges her and urges her to stand, as they would a judge, because her father’s walking by. Atticus garnered massive amounts of respect in his community from the underprivileged and underdogs, and they made sure he knew that. And he repaid it constantly, just by being himself.
Scout and Jem are brilliant protagonists, showing diversity in how they view the world and honestly, giving us one of the best “strong female protagonists” that we have. Scout isn’t afraid to speak her mind, isn’t worried about what asking that question might do, and when she has a desire, she goes for it. She reads with Atticus and when her teacher scolds her, she takes her concerns to Atticus. She wants to learn, and the teacher is holding her back. She recognizes the shortcomings and unfairness in her town and wants to understand them, question them.
In a world that is rife with bigotry, racism, rape, and many other awful and dense topics, Harper Lee manages to balance the wonder of a child with the horror of reality without ever making it overdramatic or gaudy. She doesn’t sugarcoat the bad, but doesn’t gloss over the good either. It’s an absolutely staple of my bookshelf at home, and when I someday have a son, his middle name will proudly be Atticus.