Harper Lee – To Kill a Mockingbird

★★★★

“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

Title: To Kill a Mockingbird
Author: Harper Lee
Language: English
Publication details: New York: Hachette Book Group Grand Central Publishing , 2010. (First published 1960)
Pages: 376

My ponderings:

Ah, To Kill a Mockingbird. The classic tale of learning not to judge a man by the color of his skin. There’s all sorts of other stuff too, like a creepy neighbor who actually has a heart of gold, sibling love and rivalries, school mates living in poverty and strict aunts who want you to act like a lady.

By the way, the titular line in the book is as follows:

“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.”

So if you want to be a smart-ass, whenever people joke on how To Kill a Mockingbird didn’t teach them how to kill a mockingbird at all, you can point out that the original line in the book was actually stating that it’s a sin to do so!

Life of the party, for sure.

Anyways, I really enjoyed this book. I wouldn’t call it “life-changing” and can’t say that it left a huge impact, but it was a meaningful and entertaining story. It was understandably absolutely revered in the 1960s, seeing as racism was still rampant (especially in the south of America) back then, and this book was the kind and compassionate message that needed to be said, and needed to be spread.

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Talk about intimidating.

That being said, as I live nowhere near America and it is the 2010s, as much as I understand the impact this book had, I don’t have this trembling, awe-filled reverence towards it. I like to think of myself as a empathetic character, and it’s weird – sometimes I find it easier to empathize with characters living in fantasy worlds, as compared to characters living in this world, just in a totally different era and place that I’m familiar with.

The more far-fetched it is, the easier I find it to empathize. But when it’s actually something which could very well bloody happen in this reality, I’m like: “Well…that’s horrible, but let’s see what happens on the next page!”

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Now what happens next??

I’m starting to have the realization that it’s probably because I didn’t feel that much of an attachment to the characters in this story. Yeah, that makes much more sense.

It’s not that the characters weren’t well-constructed, mind you. I loved Atticus, felt so bad for Tom (the black man who went on trial), despised Mr. Ewell (the racist red-necked hooligan who was trying to frame Tom), and had an odd affection towards Boo Radley, the creepy man who lived down the street…who was really a sweetheart in the end.

“Atticus, he was real nice.”

“Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.”

Does this mean that…Mr. Ewell would actually be a nice guy too if we just saw him??

Maybe not, since Atticus did say “most” people and not “all” people. Some assholes will just be assholes, and that’s the way it is.

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Not all of us can be “misunderstood”.

The characters were alright, I just didn’t find one who I truly became a fan of, I suppose. Probably Boo Radley if he had more showtime, but alas, he did not. To Kill a Mockingbird was definitely a book which focused more on building a story and sending a message, than  having a main character(s) and pitting him/her/them against various challenges.

One scene I really loved was when a bunch of men were threatening Atticus, and may have just started getting physical, when Scout suddenly burst out of nowhere to intervene. At a loss of what to do, she started to talk to one of them about his son, who she knew from school. After the rather awkward conversation, the men retreated without laying a finger on Atticus. Though Scout still hated them after for almost beating Atticus up, Atticus said that this actually proved that they were still human.

“…you children last night made Walter Cunningham stand in my shoes for a minute. That was enough.”

The whole message of this book is really about standing in the shoes of another. I like how it was the central theme of the book, and you could see it popping up in various situations involving various characters, but yet it didn’t feel preachy. It didn’t make me go, “Ok, I get it. See things from a different perspective, I get it!”, rather it made me nod my head and go, “Oh…damn. Yeah, that person has a story too.”

Even the girl who got Tom into this whole mess by claiming that he raped her. Atticus understood that she was just lonely, that she felt suppressed under her father, that she was afraid of what he would do to her if she admitted the truth! Which leads me back to the question: do we empathize with Mr. Ewell as well?

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“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

I guess we begrudgingly try to understand him. Doesn’t make him less of bigot though.

To Kill a Mockingbird is an enjoyable read with a meaningful message. The best part is that it doesn’t come off as preachy. That’s really all we could ask for.

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Sad truth is sad. But also truth. Sad.

 

Quotes:

“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”

“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.”

“Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I’d have the facts.”

“People in their right minds never take pride in their talents.”

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