To Kill a Mockingbird
By Harper Lee
First Published: 1960
Review © 2014 by Stephen Roof
Genre: Literature, Modern Fiction, Classic
To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic from 1960 by Harper Lee that is famous for highlighting the racism of the time in American while providing a gripping story. This novel is often taught in American high school literature classes but it should be on everyone’s list for pure reading pleasure. The story is told by a young girl nicknamed Scout who pulls the reader into the intimate details of a small town in Alabama. What starts out seeming to be a simple story about childhood in a small town soon turns into a taught drama about a capital crime trial and the dangers that arise when confronting ignorance and racism.
Scout is a tomboy whose mother died when she was only a baby. She adores her older brother and her father who is the most respected layer in town. He has never remarried but relies on his maid/cook to help raise the children although he makes sure to spend as much time as possible with his kids. Scout is smart beyond her years which results in immediate conflicts with the teacher when she enters first grade. The early scenes describing the misunderstandings of the new first grade teacher with Scout are simply hilarious. The teacher is from out of town while Scout knows the details of every family in town and soon finds herself being disciplined for trying to help out the teacher.
The first person viewpoint from Scout is done brilliantly. Her childhood experiences come across as being completely realistic and the conversations of both children and adults ring completely true. Scout’s narration draws the reader completely into her world and through her young eyes the small town and all the characters come alive. The language is completely authentic and includes the most derogative terms for African Americans but this serves to highlight the acute racism that existed in the time and place where the story takes place. As a child, Scout can’t understand how the white adults can be so hateful towards other people simply because of their color.
The novel starts off leisurely with lots of childhood comedy. But, when Scout’s dad agrees to represent a black man in a capital rape case, the predominantly white town turns against her family as being traitors to their race. This leads to harassment and threats with the promise of serious violence. When the trial begins, tension rises rapidly and this novel becomes very difficult to put down.
To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel that everyone should read. The childhood viewpoint makes this novel extremely engaging and really highlights the hypocrisies of the adults. To Kill a Mockingbird provides a captivating look at life and racism in a small southern American town in the mid-20th century. Don’t miss it!