Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Book Review: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

“The unforgettable novel of a childhood in a sleepy Southern town and the crisis of conscience that rocked it…”

Lee once said she wanted to be known as the Jane Austen of the South and I (for one) think she succeeded admirably. While different in style, both have a unique clarity of tone and knack for capturing an entire scene with a few telling details and perfectly turned phrases. Lee’s story is set in a small southern town and Austen is, of course, famous for setting her stories within the confines of a small country neighborhood. Both deal with deep running prejudices–often held between neighbor and neighbor.

Finishing it, I think the biggest thing I glimpsed this first time around was the lengths to which an ordinary man (ordinary people) will go to avoid confronting the truth. There can be no band-aid fixes for prejudice, because the problem lies much deeper–at the heart of what we believe about God. Sin isn’t merely a matter of the sweeping and dramatic. We are all sinners. And ‘ordinary’ people–sinners–blinded by their own preconceived ideas–are capable of awful things. Condescension, superiority, hypocrisy–can all veil the same bitter root of hatred. And ordinary people, desperate to cover their own hatred (which they know is wrong) will often search desperately (albeit with a “we’d better just move on” attitude) for a scapegoat. They’re willing to let someone else take the disgrace (or endure horrendous lifetime consequences) rather than confront their own sin.

Honest self-examination is both dangerous and costly. We may find out uncomfortable things about ourselves–and there’s a chance we might lose our own (if it's self-satisfied) good opinion. It may even necessitate change–change on our part. And that’s often painful.

And yes, I loved the townspeople: Jem (probably actually now one of my favorite literary characters), Scout, Sheriff Heck Tate, the Judge, Uncle Jack, Atticus, Aunt Alexandra, Miss Maudie, Calpurnia, Mr. Link Deas…

So, all in all, when I began it, I didn’t know exactly what to expect and it was quite different than I’d imagined, but my final take is that I quite enjoyed it, found it thought-provoking, and would highly recommend it!

(Some) Favorite Lines:

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

“Atticus and my uncle, who went to school at home, knew everything–at least, what one didn’t know the other did… Jem, educated on a half-Decimal half-Duncecap basis, seemed to function effectively alone or in a group, but Jem was a poor example: no tutorial system devised by man could have stopped him from getting at books.”

“There are just some kind of men…who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one.”

“I scurried to my room and went to bed. Uncle Jack was a prince of a fellow not to let me down. But I never figured out how Atticus knew I was listening, and it was not until many years later that I realized he wanted me to hear every word he said.”

“I repeated my part for Calpurnia in the kitchen and she said I was wonderful. I wanted to go across the street and show Miss Maudie, but Jem said she’d probably be at the pageant anyway. After that, it didn’t matter whether they went or not. Jem said he would take me. Thus began our longest journey together.”

“Jem was carrying my ham costume, rather awkwardly, as it was hard to hold. I thought it gallant of him to do so.”

(And note: I know this is assigned reading in schools, but personally, I would recommend it more for adults or at least older high school reading.)


  1. I've heard so much of this book, I really want to read it!

    1. Hi Naomi!
      If you do, I'd love to hear what you think of it! :-)

    2. I'll let you know if I do ;-)

  2. I've read this twice, once in high school just because we had a copy and I was in need of a new book to start. I was spellbound. Then I re-read it after college, and was spellbound again. That was ten years or so ago, so I've got this on my to-read list again, and hope to revisit it soon.

    People like to talk about how honorable and pure Atticus is, but I think (and remember it's been 10 years since I read this, so I may be off) that what makes him so noble and honorable is that he's not especially pure. He, too, has prejudices, has faults -- but he fights against them and works to be rid of them, and that's what makes him a hero. Is that how you found him too?

    I think that's part of what really resonated with me, as a Christian. Atticus is the "new man" here who daily struggles against his sinful self, against the "old Adam" of his fallen human nature. Other characters either didn't realize what they were doing was wrong -- like people who have never heard the law and don't know it's a sin to covet or lust, their consciences just tell them it's a sin to act on their desires. And still other characters know what they're doing is wrong, but they've either quelled their consciences for so long, or are so held in sin's clutches that they don't feel any need to behave otherwise.

    And then there's Scout. Scout taking that terrifying journey from childhood innocence to adult knowledge. Like Eve, she has her eyes opened when she acquires knowledge of good and evil. She can never go back to the unconcerned life she led before, but must press forward now in this world outside her Eden.

    Okay, it's been a reeeeeeeeeeeeeeally long day, and I'm not sure that all actually made sense. I love this book, how's that? :-)

    1. Yes! I guess that's partly why it was different than I had expected...because I'd heard so much about him as a prototype character and--like you said--he isn't perfect. I think part of it was interesting just in how he's constantly trying to figure out the right course, especially in how to lead his children in this complex world where there's sin that has to be dealt with and yet where we're called to treat everyone in love. So figuring out what that looks like on a daily level.

      And yes, it all totally made sense! And I love everything you brought out... I'm having such a ball discussing all these books and ideas! :-)

  3. I loved this book--it's so sweet and simple, but so full of depth. Atticus, Scout, Jem--all the characters are so delightful! I love the quote about reading/breathing, too. It's stuck with me since I read it:) Another of my favorite lines was at the trial, when Mr. Ewell (ugh!) was asked if he was ambidextrous, and he said, "I most positively am not! I can use one hand good as t'other, one hand good as t'other!" I cracked up XD

    1. Arwen Undomiel,
      Isn't that sometimes so amazing about "classic" books? How they can be so deep, yet told throughout with such sweet simplicity? It's incredible. And oh, yes -- I remember that line of Mr. Ewell's! It was another favorite, I think I just couldn't bring myself to quote him. Oh, he drove me crazy! But that line was and is hilarious!


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