I have read “To Kill a Mockingbird” before. I read it backstage when I was working at the Arkansas Repertory Theater during a production of “Of Mice and Men”. I remember liking the book, but it didn’t really stick with me. I didn’t really see what the big deal was about. So with summer here, I thought it would be a fun, classic reread.
And honestly, I get it this time. I see why it is considered one of the greatest works of American Literature. It isn’t a flashy book filled with lots of allegory or alliteration. It is simple and beautiful and full of life lessons.
I’m really bad about running through books. I read them at lightening speed, trying to get to the end and find out what happens. But “To Kill a Mockingbird” is not a book for the speed reader. It is one that you wade through slowly, cherishing each bit of fatherly advice that Atticus gives you.
“Before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”
I loved that quote. Atticus is such a fabulous character. He is the same in the street as he is in his home. He is trustworthy, honest, and dedicated to doing what is right, no matter what the consequences. No matter who is watching.
At another point he says this:
“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 you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”
Atticus is a study of real character, of courage of a different kind. He took a case that he knew would be controversial, a case that he knew he probably wouldn’t win, and he did it because it was the right thing to do. He stood down a mob and even his friends because his conviction to do the right thing was unbreakable.
I believe that the main theme of the book is that it is important to be good to those who are less fortunate than you. I think that the story is going beyond the golden rule of treating others how you would like to be treated. The real sin is being cruel to those who are weaker, poorer, and generally less fortunate. This theme is played out through their discussion of mockingbirds and the way it ties the ending together is brilliant.
“‘Remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’ That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it… Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy… but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
Harper Lee made the main character Scout, a 7 year old girl. Through Scout’s eyes, she is able to cover issues such as racial prejudice in the South, politics, poverty, and evil, with honesty and openness. Being a child, Scout can ask questions that are taboo, and bring about honest discussion.
It is a fabulous tale of growing up, the perils of learning right from wrong, adventure, and the hard lesson that life isn’t always fair.
If you’ve read this book before and didn’t love it, maybe you just weren’t ready for it. Give it another try. You might learn something about yourself.