To Kill A Mockingbird
Harper, An imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2010
This was out 4th reading of this wonderful book and it was and is the very best book we have ever read. Of course, that means a 5-Paw rating, but I’m getting ahead of myself. This is the story of Scout Finch, well, at least three years of her childhood spent in Maycomb, Alabama. “. . .it was a tired old town. . .Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.” What a wonderful description! According to my mom, who spent many summers in Alabama with her grandmother, the descriptions of the hot and humid weather is accurate. The way Ms Lee writes it, you can just feel the sticky heat surrounding you. Back to Scout – during these three years she and her brother Jem strike up a lifelong friendship with Dill, try desperately to get a glimpse of Boo Radley, suffer the indignities of white townspeople harassing them because their father, Atticus, defends a black man, or ‘Negro’ in the parlance of the time, in a trial of the alleged rape of a white woman by a black man, and to finish it off, a near-death experience.
*Jean Louise ‘Scout’ Finch, a precocious girl of “almost 6”, a tomboy who would just as soon as beat a person up as to look at them if they say or do the wrong thing, sassy, smart and tells the story of Mockingbird.
*Jeremy ‘Jem’ Atticus Finch, 10 years old and Scout’s older brother, who grows up a lot in those three years the book covers.
*Atticus Finch, father to Scout and Jem, a fair-minded lawyer and representative in the State Legislature; he is a quiet man, but strong, tolerant and loving to his children. He is raising his children alone after the death of his wife some 4 years prior.
Secondary Characters (there are so many, I only include the most important):
*Charles ‘Dill’ Baker Harris, a child from Meridian, Mississippi who spends the summers with his Aunt Rachel. Dill joins Jem and Scout on most of their adventures. (Legend has it that the character Dill was based on Truman Capote, a dear friend of the author.)
*Calpurnia, the negro maid/nurse who looks after the Finch household and accompanying children
*Alexandra ‘Aunty’ Finch Hancock, Atticus’ sister who comes to live with them and help raise the growing kids. (In case you are wondering, Aunty is not in the movie starring Gregory Peck as Atticus)
*The Radley Family, whom the kids wonder about obsessively, trying whatever they can think of to make Boo (Arthur, son of Nathan) come out of the house.
*Heck Tate (don’t you just love that name. ‘Heck’ – makes me wonder what it could possibly short for, town sheriff
*Tom Robinson, negro man in this late 20s with a family of his own, falsely accused of raping a white woman and whom Atticus is defending.
*Mayella Ewell daughter of Robert E. Lee Ewell, the white side of the trial. The Ewell’s are what the town believes to be the “wrong kind” or as Mama Bush (mom’s grandmother) would put it, ‘poor white trash’.
*Miss Maudie Atkinson, an across the street neighbor of the Finch’s’, a woman of a certain age (another grandmother-ism), she bakes the best Lane cakes in town, dotes on her flowers and on Jem, Scout and Dill.
The town is people by wonderful characters, not necessarily good or bad, just folks, as Scout puts it. The trial of Tom Robinson does divide the town and Atticus’ defense of him rankles many, pleases few. But during this time the kids learn a lot about their father, themselves and prejudice. Having recently read Go Set a Watchman, a supposed sequel to Mockingbird, Atticus (who is labeled a racists by a misinformed few) is the same character in both books. What he believes in the first book, he believes in the second – that while all men are equal under the law, the black man is more likely to be mislead than a white man. The black race, having grown up mostly illiterate, are innocent in the ways of the world and must be treated with deference and understanding. What he and the rest of white townspeople failed to realize and/or accept is that intelligence and wisdom is not rooted in the color of one’s skin.
Mockingbird is a joy to read; it must be read slowly and several times to be savored. Each time we read it we see something new – this time it was in the beautifully descriptive way the book is written. One of my favorite descriptions is when Scout is sitting with the ladies of the Missionary Society listening to them: “Mrs. Merriweather nodded wisely. Her voice soared over the clink of coffee cups and the soft bovine sounds of the ladies munching their dainties.” (pg 266) I love that phrase – “the soft bovine sounds of the ladies munching.” Isn’t that great?! She describes Tom Robinson as “a black-velvet Negro, not shiny, but soft black velvet. The whites of his eyes shone in his face, and when he spoke we saw flashes of his teeth. If he had been whole he would have been a fine specimen of a man. “ (pg 220) “Soft black-velvet.” What a mesmerizing way of describing someone. Beautiful. In previous readings it was all about the story. This time it was about the characters and the way they were written. And, they and their town, were written beautifully.
Rating: 5 out of 5 paws for generous, descriptive writing that hooks the reader from the beginning and doesn’t let go until the final word.
According to the American Library Association this book has been banned or challenged in the following years and states:
1977, Minnesota; 1980, New York; 1981, Indiana; 1984, Illinois; 1985, Arizona; 1985, Missouri; 1995, California; 1995, Louisiana; 1996, Mississippi; 1996, Texas; 2001, Georgia; 2001, Oklahoma; 2004, Illinois; 2001, Georgia; 2001, Oklahoma; 2004, Illinois; 2004, North Carolina; 2006, Tennessee; 2007, New Jersey; 2009, Ontario. The book was banned or challenged because of the use of the “n” word, racial slurs, adult themes, racial division, white supremacy and because it conflicted with the values of the community.
Again, we stand by the freedom of choosing to read what we want. No one – person, committee, board or government has the right to decide what we or anyone else wants to read.