Saturday, October 8, 2011

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee
New York : Warner Books, [1982], c1960.

If you haven't read the book (or seen the movie) by now, there's not much else I can say to convince you. Do it. Then come back, and we'll talk.

It's been years since the last time I read To Kill a Mockingbird, and I decided that, between my hometown reading it as a group read and Banned Books Week, it was time for a reread. (Well, at least I started it during Banned Books Week). This is the third or fourth time I've read this book. The first was when I was in middle school. I read it for school, and I remember my surprise as I followed Scout through every plot revelation. The next was listening to the audiobook while on vacation, enjoying a new experience of a well-loved story. This time, knowing the plot practically by heart, I could notice details and social commentary that I had entirely missed before.

***spoilers to follow***

I was much more attuned to the comments by adults that by and large went over Scout's head. This is partly because I know the story so well, but also because I know much more about American history and how African Americans were treated in this country (north and south) during this time period that I did the last time I read the story. I noticed the hypocrisy of adults who had a patronizing attitude towards African "savages" and wanted a better life for them, yet thought their help was getting uppity as a result of trial. And here's what really floored me: Atticus isn't entirely free from the societal dictates of his time. During the trial in cross-examination, he calls members of a white family Mr. Ewell and Miss Mayella. He calls his defendant, a black man, by his first name, and in conversation refers to Tom Robinson as "boy." It bothered me, even knowing that of course these characters were products of their time, and people really did talk and think that way. I could see how some teachers might be leery of using this book in classroom, though I think that it brings up a lot of food for thought and discussion on extremely important issues that are part of our history and should not be ignored.

On a less drastic note, I had also entirely missed that the meat of the story is set in 1935; I had always pictured the 1960s in my head (no wonder Aunt Alexandra couldn't stand Scout in explains so much!). I love that every time I've read the book, I've discovered something new. While not a perfect book, it is one of my sentimental favorites, and I certainly plan on rereading it again.

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