To Kill a Mockingbird Review
Review by Charmaine
The first time I read To Kill a Mockingbird I was sixteen years old. My high school English teacher handed out worn paperback copies to the class along with a time line dictating how many chapters we should read per day and the dates when essays were due and tests would be taken. She explained to us how we should read it and what we should find according to her, or at least the guidelines given to her.
This ritual happened every few weeks. I read these books because I had to, but I found that I enjoyed most of them. Then there were the few I lovedâ€“To Kill a Mockingbird being one of them.
According to Amazon.com, To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Leeâ€™s only novel, is “a gripping, heart-wrenching, and wholly remarkable tale of coming-of-age in a South poisoned by virulent prejudice, it views a world of great beauty and savage inequities through the eyes of a young girl, as her fatherâ€“a crusading local lawyerâ€“risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime.
When I picked up the novel to read again for the first time in sixteen years, I held it in my hand and tried to remember everything about the story I could. I thought of Scout, our narrator, and her tale of growing up with her older brother, Jem, raised by their widowed father, Atticus. I thought about how her, Jem and their friend Dill tried to trick Boo Radley, the mysterious neighbor, to come outside. I thought about the bravery of Atticus and how he tried to teach his children right and wrong, leading by example. I thought of poor Tom Robinson, who never had a fair chance.
Did I, over time, idealize the book? Did I remember it correctly? What did I forget? Would I feel differently about the book now that Iâ€™m older and have a child of my own just slightly older than Scout was during the trial of Tom Robinson?
When I finished reading last night, I closed the book and let it lay on my chest and fell asleep thinking about the questions I initially posed to myself.
First I found that I did not idealize the bookâ€“it truly is a great American classic. It is significant in its brutally honest portrayal of racism and class in the 1930â€™s through the eyes of a child. Our narrator, Jean Louise â€œScoutâ€ Finch, is not quite six years old when we first meet her, she idolizes her big brother, wants to be brave like her father and is about to start school. She is honest with everyone she meets, not quite knowing what is and isnâ€™t appropriate conversation yet. We watch her observe the men and women around her, and how they interact with the different people of the community. She is puzzled by class and background and why it seems so important to everyone. We take a journey with her that spans three years and a lot of growing up.
We begin with Scout telling her tale as an adult, beginning with her brother Jem breaking his arm when he was thirteen years old. She then backtracks three years to the beginning of the events that led to the fracture.
The Finches live in the small Alabama town of Maycomb. Atticus Finch is a lawyer raising his two children, with the help of their black housekeeper, Calpurnia. He treats his children with respect and is always honest with them.
The kids meet Charles Baker â€œDillâ€ Harris, the nephew of a neighbor and they begin their summer playing with him, their games eventually focusing on the mysterious neighbor, who never leaves his house, Arthur â€œBooâ€ Radley. Rumors of him trying to kill his own father and eating cats raw scare them from going near his property, but not enough to lose their intrigue of baiting him to come out of the house with assorted schemes.
At the end of summer, Dill returns home to Meridian, Mississippi, the tricks end and Scout starts her first year of school. Her first day she learns her most important lesson, not from the new teacher, but her father. She doesnâ€™t understand the teachers new ideas of education and why she isnâ€™t allowed to read at home anymore. She thinks it unfair that Burris Ewell will only ever attend the first day and she is offended when Walter Cunningham pours Molasses all over his lunch.
“‘First of all,’ he said, ‘if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, youâ€™ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of viewâ€“’
‘â€“until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.’”
For the most part, I did remember the book and its events correctly, but I was happily reminded of the colorful characters the children interact with and a few other adventures I had forgotten.
The school year passes and another summer arrives, along with Dill and their obsession with Boo Radley. The children also talk of haints (spirits that live in the streets), the Lady of the Moon and other suspicious tales that keep playtime entertaining.
As the summer turns into fall and another school year, new mysteries appear in the form of trinkets in the knot of a tree in front of the Radley house. They donâ€™t know who the items belong to, but they keep them safe for the owner, should they ever come for them. Along the way we meet the relatives, neighbors and townsfolk who shape the children and adjust their point of view.
Part two of the book focuses on Atticus being court-appointed to defend a black man accused of raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell, a capitol offense. This case affects the children from all angles, from school mates teasing them, family disapproval and the people of the town murmuring about their father being a disgrace. Atticus asks them not to let people get to them, to not defend him and to turn the other cheek. This was also a time of Jem maturing and the siblings started to drift apart because of it.
One of the most famous quotes of the novel comes when the children receive air rifles for Christmas. Atticus passes along to Jem his wishes of how he use the gun. He said to Jem:
â€œIâ€™d rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know youâ€™ll go after birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit â€˜em, but remember itâ€™s a sin to kill a mockingbird.â€
Later Scout asks her neighbor Miss Maudie what her father meant and she was told, â€œ…they donâ€™t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us.â€
The mockingbird comes to represent innocence and the loss of innocence is one of the major themes of the story. The other themes of bravery, morals and good versus evil are timeless and beautifully written in this tale. Iâ€™m glad I had this opportunity to reread this classic. I found that I did indeed read the book differently than I did the first time. I think it would be impossible not to. Iâ€™m a single parent now and have observed my own daughter mature, understand the world around her a bit better, but retain the innocence someone her age should still have. I think about how Atticus Finch led his life and set an example to his children. I now know first hand how important it is now to be the standard for your children. I know that my child needs to trust that Iâ€™ll be honest with her and protect her. I doubt I thought much of that when I first read the novel.
Not only is this an enjoyable book, but it is an important one. Sadly, this is an accurate account of our nation’s history and needs to be acknowledged. I only wish that racismâ€™s time had come and gone, I wish that we could look to the courts with absolute certainty that it is wielding justice. It takes brave men like the fictional Atticus Finch to stand up for rights and the oppressed.
â€œI wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. Â It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. Â You rarely win, but sometimes you do.â€
To Kill a Mockingbird has reminded me that the best advice I can give and follow is to put on the other persons skin to get a new perspective.
I highly recommend To Kill a Mockingbird for a good read. It is considered the greatest novel of the twentieth century for all the best reasons. Scout is a wonderful story teller who will grip you from the beginning with her wide-eyed innocence, good humor, endless supply of questions and love for her family. I think, maybe, Iâ€™ll read it again in another sixteen yearsâ€“maybe Iâ€™ll have a deeper understanding, maybe Iâ€™ll gain another new perspective, maybe the times will have changed along with how we treat each other.
â€œI think there’s just one kind of folks. Â Folks.â€ -Scout.
Harper Lee published her novel July 11, 1960. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. An Academy Award winning film was made based on her work in 1962. To Kill a Mockingbird has been named by librarians as the best novel of the twentieth century and has received numerous honors over the last fifty years. Lee was awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor in 2007.
The fiftieth anniversary edition of the novel includes a forward by the author stating how much she dislikes introductions, explaining “… they inhibit pleasure, they kill the joy of anticipation, they frustrate curiousity.”
If you would like to win your own copy of the fiftieth anniversary edition of To Kill a Mockingbird, please leave a comment in any post relating to the novel and your name will be entered into a random drawing.
Interested in reviewing?
If you would like to share your love of literature or rediscover the classics, sign up today to court the classics and enjoy the foundations of Western literature with us! If there’s a classic you want to see reviewed, email us at email@example.com.
Charmaine is an avid reader, sometimes writer and volunteer with Fictionista Workshop