To Kill a Mockingbird. The only novel written by Harper Lee. Over the years, when I’ve asked people about their favourite novels, it came up. A lot. Most people studied To Kill a Mockingbird in high school. I did not. It wasn’t a book covered in any of my high school English courses. I had heard of it, but I was surely too busy reading all of John’s Irving book to read it. So, that book just… slipped away.
I somehow didn’t read it after devouring In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s by her childhood friend Truman Capote. I was a tad obsessed with him in my early twenties. When I watched Capote in 2004 (starring the extraordinary Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman and the perfectly-cast Catherine Keener as Nelle Harper Lee) I was reminded that To Kill a Mockingbird had slipped away and I had to tackle it. It took ten years, but I finally read it. Here is my January feature for Reading the Classics Challenge in 2015.
Five Highlights While Reading Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird::
5. Lee nails the use of first-person point of view in this novel. Jean Louise “Scout” Finch narrates the story, and most scenes are told through her eyes as a young American girl in the early 30’s. Scout —a naïve child coming of age during a tumultuous time— shares her thoughts, feelings, and uncertainties with the reader. At times, the point of view shifts that of an older, more sensible narrator who is wiser thanks to hindsight and maturity.
4. I love Scout, a tomboy full of piss and vinegar who stands her ground when faced with challenges. She’s clever, funny, and curious, so she gets into trouble. She gets thrown into an ugly adult world when her father represents an innocent, black man during a controversial trial. She grows up fast during the span of the novel and learns just how cruel humankind can be.
3. This quote, by Miss Maudie (the snarky, loveable neighbour) is perfect: “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” The mockingbird metaphor that resonates throughout the book reminds us how innocent people can be hurt (and forever changed) by the harm others.
2. Atticus Finch might just be one of the most righteous, admirable fathers dreamed up in American fiction. He’s a lawyer who fights for justice at all cost and a father who lets his daughter be herself. He never flinched when making hard choices.
1. Lee came up with a cleverly fabricated costume that helps protect Scout. I will never look at a slab of ham the same way again.
This year, I am challenging myself to read 12 “classic novels” as part of the #ReadingtheClassicsin2015 campaign. I’ll write one “classic” review per month in the form of a Top 5 Highlights list. Join me again next month when I discuss Bram Stoker’s Dracula.