Saturday, February 28, 2015

"To Kill a Mockingbird"

If I read "To Kill a Mockingbird" in high-school (when I was enamored solely with British Literature, not American), it didn't leave an impression, so when I pulled it off my shelf last week, I was reading it with fresh eyes.

Reading Mockingbird at the table

I didn't put the book down, so to speak, for several days until it was finished and then I actually couldn't start a new book because I felt I couldn't travel out of Maycomb County.

Then I pondered how to write a book review for this blog and felt I couldn't do it. Given enough time, I would love to write a 15-page analysis of the novel, but I don't have the time, nor is that a review. After finishing the novel, I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the author, Harper Lee. What an interesting bird! I had a sneaking suspicion  as I read what must be classed as one of the masterpieces of American literature (and I see I'm not the only one to think so): this author likely didn't write another novel. Indeed, I learned that this was her first and only published novel . . . because, when one writes a magnum opus, what is left to write?

So, Miss Lee did not write again and spent the rest of her life, not as a recluse, but as a very reserved woman who lived with her sister in her tiny Southern hometown and who did not grant interviews. (This was in stark contrast to her beloved friend, the flamboyant writer Truman Capote, with whom she grew up and after whom her character Dill is modeled.)

To Kill a Mockingbird is a story of race relations in America.

It is a coming-of-age novel.

It is a story of the transformation (destruction) of innocents when they encounter evil.

It is a brilliant novel.

The story relies on an unusual author's technique: the reader sees only through the narrator's eyes, but the narrator is a six-year-old girl. We know what Scout knows. A six-year-old doesn't know much. The arc of the story covers nearly three years and the reader is sometimes frustrated wondering what exactly is going on in the plot, but waiting for Scout to mature enough to have understanding (for our sake!). Why is the summer going to be a rough one? Why does her father not want her to fight? What is the basis for these insults about her family? What exactly is the trial about? The reader experiences the slowly dawning realizations right along with Scout.

The courtroom drama is crafted so well that the reader is on the edge of her seat. The reader thinks she must know what the verdict will be, yet it can't be. The reader is convinced it can't be. Will it be?

Miss Lee's characters are strong and well-developed, yet nuanced. We see good and evil mixed to varying degrees in characters such as Aunt Alexandra, Walter Cunningham, and Mrs. Dubose. They're quite fleshly real to the reader.

And, of all the characters, who could ignore Boo Radley? Boo . . . like a ghost. Is he even real? Is he there? Was there ever such a vastly important literary character who carries the arc of the story from the first page to the last whom we do not see and are not entirely sure is even alive?

This Southern Gothic novel is a truly fine piece of literature which illuminates the race relations which are one of the defining characteristics of this yet-young 200-year-old country. I recommend it highly.

Note: This novel is usually assigned in high-school and I think that is a good age due to the mature themes.

LATE-BREAKING NEWS: I have just been informed that a second novel by Harper Lee is to be published! She wrote one novel originally with Scout as an adult, which was good but her editor requested she write a novel from the perspective of Scout's childhood: that became "To Kill a Mockingbird." But her original manuscript, "Go Set a Watchman," survives and is to be published as a sequel to "Mockingbird." See the news story.


  1. Wow! Sounds good. Great review! -Emiliann W.

  2. Oh, but she did write another book! "Mockingbird" was actually the sequel to her first novel which is due out in July. I'm so excited!