Don’t hate me (I’m saying this mostly to Hannah). I’m skipping my review of The Talented Mr. Ripley because I though it was dull and I have nothing of interest to say about it. I do, however, have something to say about To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
You know how books often have a brief, tantalizing synopsis on the back cover? My copy of To Kill a Mockingbird describes the book as follows:
“Harper Lee’s classic novel of a lawyer in the Deep south defending a black man charged with the rape of a white girl.”
That’s IT!! That’s all it says! I’m dumbfounded as to how the publishers thought, “Um, sure, that’s probably good enough, right?” NO, it’s not good enough. That will not draw in readers like a moth to a flame. Granted, the publisher is probably relying on the fact that being alive and not already knowing the dramas and details of this novel is highly unlikely. Still, though. One pitiful sentence does not sum up the hugeness of this book. Even now, what you’re about to read is inadequate. Let’s just get that out in the open.
SO, since the blurb did such a great job of laying down the boring synopsis, I feel no need to elaborate on “the story is about (…)” yadda yadda yadda. I’ll go straight into the details. Harper Lee is a literary genius. The main character, Scout, is one of the most beautifully accurate depictions of a child’s mind that I’ve ever encountered. The story is told from her point of view, so readers are forced to address all the small Southern town issues, some of which are very much mature subjects, from a child’s mindset. The story isn’t just about the court trial; it’s about growing up in a small town, not liking some of your neighbors, being curious about private matters, hating school, watching your older siblings outgrow you, needing to fit in with everyone else, understanding why fitting in doesn’t always mean doing the right thing, and deciding what that “right thing” is for yourself.
The racial aspect of this novel is enormous. It’s so huge, in fact, it has landed this immensely moral and impactful book on “Banned Books” shelves across the U.S. Yes, spoiler, it uses “the n-word” about a thousand times. Yes, it made me hugely uncomfortable every time, to the point where I would see the word coming and would make my eyes skip right over it so my mind didn’t have to even think that word. Lee’s usage of that term, however, is why this book should not be banned from schools. The book takes place during 1935, a time when racism was an everyday fact in the South, and the word is always used, by black and white characters, to show readers the common understanding of social status. Atticus Finch, Scout’s father, is a perfect example of a true Southern gentleman. Lee pits him against stereotypical Southern men, however, to show that while racism was commonly accepted in Alabama during that time, one’s region and corrupt surroundings do not determine the individual heart of a man. Atticus teaches Scout and Jem, her brother, to stray away from common and to try to understand why people do the things they do and encourages them to decide on their own what’s right and what’s wrong. It’s a shame that the overall message and moral teachings of this novel are overshadowed by one taboo word.
I’m immensely proud to be from the South. Just like anywhere, there is an element of corrupt-ish-ness in Southern society and, sadly, racism is still prevalent in many regions. However, the South never ceases to amaze me with common displays of human kindness, generosity, humility, and toughness. Chivalry may be dead in many unfortunate places, but it is very alive down South. Again, it’s a true shame that these traits are so often overshadowed by the also common narrow-minded intolerance for other cultures. I truly think that allowing Lee’s novel to be read and taught in high school classes would help break today’s generation of the bad habits of our ancestors. What was acceptable in 1935 is no longer acceptable today, and we need to employ as much ammo as possible if we’re going to overcome our grandparents’ prejudices and breed more tolerant children of our own. I highly suggest that everyone everywhere read this book. It is a masterpiece and I couldn’t possibly say enough to measure up to how much the world needed this book and what an amazing impact is has had and will continue to have, regardless of some stupid ban.
Let us know what you think. Hannah gets to decide what we read next! She’ll let you know.