To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

Paperback, 2006

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

Harper Perennial Modern Classics (2006), 323 pages

Description

The explosion of racial hate in an Alabama town is viewed by a little girl whose father defends a black man accused of rape.

Media reviews

The Guardian
Mockingbird is not necessarily as widely admired among scholars of US literature as it is among its fans. I once enraged an audience of very nice book-lovers at the Cheltenham literary festival by suggesting that Mockingbird was just the teensiest bit overrated. There are many reasons for this assessment, not least the feeling that Atticus Finch’s famous moral rectitude is, in point of fact, disturbingly flexible. He tells Scout: “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.” That’s all well and good, and a fine American sentiment that goes at least back to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. But part of Mark Twain’s radical move in that novel is to make his hero an illiterate backwoods boy; Lee’s hero is a virtuous, middle-class white man, full of noblesse oblige to the black people he defends (who revere him for it), but who doesn’t bat an eyelid at the common knowledge that the illiterate, white-trash Mayella Ewell is regularly raped and beaten by her father.
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The Wall Street Journal
Its sentiments and moral grandeur are as unimpeachable as the character of its hero, Atticus. ... It's time to stop pretending that "To Kill a Mockingbird" is some kind of timeless classic that ranks with the great works of American literature. Its bloodless liberal humanism is sadly dated, as pristinely preserved in its pages as the dinosaur DNA in "Jurassic Park."
The New Yorker
A book that we thought instructed us about the world tells us, instead, about the limitations of Jim Crow liberalism in Maycomb, Alabama.
The New York Times
There are some improbable and sentimental moments in the story, but there are also great moments of laughter that belong to memory and a novelist's hand... Miss Lee's original characters are people to cherish in this winning first novel by a fresh writer with something significant to say, South and North.

User reviews

LibraryThing member atimco
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee's amazing Pulitzer-winning novel, is a rare and luminous novel that cannot be made trite no matter how many times it is assigned in high school. This book is quite funny in places, incredibly sad in others, and just plain real everywhere. It's our sad imperfect world seen through the eyes of a child — and thus rendered hopeful.

It seems silly to summarize the plot of such a well-known work, but briefly, this is the story of two white children in Alabama circa the 1930s whose father, a respected lawyer, is appointed to defend a black man accused of raping a white woman. The subject matter sounds brutal but it never descends to the merely ugly for several reasons. One is because of the narrative voice: funny, honest, innocent, eight-year-old Scout. Another reason is that the evil is balanced — overshadowed, even — by the good people in the story, especially Atticus. But more on him later.

Lee is leisurely in her pace and tells all kinds of anecdotes about Maycomb County and its inhabitants before getting down to what we might call the real story. But as I savored the anecdotes this time, I realized that they are an essential part of Lee's world-building. I felt as though I had been given a slice of 1930s Alabama, tasting as good and as bad as real life.

The characters are perfectly written, always believable in their complexity and motivations. There are a lot of "good" characters who are imperfect and display prejudice at times, and some "bad" characters who turn out not to be so bad after all. There is a character who seems completely irredeemable, without a spark of virtue to spice his wickedness. And then there's Atticus.

Atticus Finch is one of the greatest heroes I've ever met in literature, the kind of man you want to name sons after. I've heard Atticus called the worst kind of Southern patriarchal white supremacist, because instead of starting a revolution and demanding change, he worked within and appeared to accept the flawed system of his time. This, of course, is rubbish. There is a time and place for militant demands... and there is also a time and place for personal integrity lived out quietly and without fanfare. Atticus does what he does because it is his best chance for saving Tom Robinson. Starting a public campaign to remedy all the ills ever suffered by the black population in Alabama and America and the world would not help Tom. Leading by example is such a cliché, but a character like Atticus Finch restores meaning to it. He is the moral center of this story and yet never loses his humanity.

One profound thing about To Kill a Mockingbird is that it has something to say not only about the evils of racism, but also about the honorable way to treat those who subscribe to views we would consider prejudiced. There are plenty of books out there that rail against prejudice, but very few that offer an unflinching ideal for interacting with both its victims and perpetrators. Again and again Atticus affirms that the people of Maycomb are still good people at heart, despite their ugly and illogical racism. He says that their views are worthy of respect even if he doesn't agree with them. Sometimes this seems a little unfair; letting Mrs. Henry Du Bois off the hook for her nastiness just because she is a sick woman doesn't seem right to me. But maybe this is grace in action, and Atticus almost a Christ-figure — forgiving even (and especially) when forgiveness is not deserved.

Religion is a thought-provoking theme in the story. Hypocrisy and legalism receive their due by being shown for what they are. And there are some very funny caricatures of religious sentiments (J. Grimes Everett and the missionary society come to mind here). But religion is not universally condemned; Atticus is certainly sincere in his faith and sits alone in church every Sunday so as not to be distracted by his children. It's clear that his faith is intensely personal and heartfelt. Calpurnia's church is a place where the people are earnest in their beliefs and exhorted — strongly — to live out their faith by helping one another, even sacrificially. I love the part when Reverend Sykes orders that the church doors be closed until they have collected enough money to help Helen Robinson! In several places, Atticus and Miss Maudie talk about being Christian as a good thing, a standard that many fall short of. Atticus' final plea to the jury on Tom's behalf invokes the name of God.

For this reread, I listened to Sissy Spacek's narration on Recorded Books audiobook. It was superb. Her gentle Southern drawl was just enough and not too much, and she really understood the characters. I could tell that she enjoyed the humorous parts, and was fearless in the heavier moments. I know there are a couple audiobooks out there for this book, but this has to be one of the better ones. Spacek is fantastic and her work perfectly complements the story.

To Kill A Mockingbird is a brilliant book, the kind that stays with you forever. Powerful and compelling.
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LibraryThing member theokester
Well, this is another classic novel that I hadn't yet read….hadn't seen the movie…didn't really know much of anything about it at all. I basically knew that this was a book set in Alabama in the 1930s and it involved a legal case with some sort of racial tension. In honor of its 50th anniversary, I decided it was high time I pick it up and get to it.

Right from the start I was drawn in by the youthful, vibrant voice of Scout, the 8 year old narrator. I absolutely loved the way she described the town, the county, the people and everything in her life. She has such an innocent and honest way of drawing the reader in. Her simple storytelling narrative is humorous and disarming (which comes in handy as the theme gets heavier). She did a wonderful job of painting an accurate description (at least as far as I'm concerned) of 1930s Alabama. I really felt like I was there…like I knew and understood (at least through the eyes of a child) the people of Maycomb.

As I read, I kept waiting for "the shoe to drop." I knew that there was a trial somewhere in this book and that it had some climactic underpinnings in the plot. As the story continued, I kept telling myself not to worry about the trial…that it would come eventually and that I should just enjoy the wonderful writing. Harper Lee made it easy to forget the other problems that were coming up (the trial) and keep us engaged in the intrigue and curiosity of Scout, Jem and Dill. I loved the various "side stories" along the way. They gave great insight into the characters in the town as well as the character of the society/community.

Slowly (but very interestingly) we finally arrive at the trial. The tension is huge naturally and Scout is worried. Because of her young age, some of the details she focuses on and her reactions are a little different than might be expected. It was cool to see Jem's reaction through her eyes (as he gripped the railing so tightly his knuckles turned white). I absolutely loved her confused and innocent reaction to the outcome of the trial.

What I found even more interesting is that when the trial ended, there were still a considerable number of pages left in the book. I thought perhaps it would follow an appeals process or something but was glad that the rest of the story was much more engaging than just more courtroom drama.

I loved (and at the same time was disgusted) by the hypocritical action and behavior of the townsfolk after the trial as compared to their behavior before hand. Most telling was the conversation at the afternoon meeting of the ladies that Scout was compelled to join with her aunt. The way they almost acknowledged Tom's innocence and Atticus's benevolence and saying that Tom would have been fine if he'd been patient.

Then the conversation about Hitler and the Jews was an excellent counterpoint to the racial tension. I loved the way that Scout could sense that there was a disconnect in the behavior/talk/action of the townsfolk as they discussed Hitler after behaving the way they did towards Blacks. She could sense something was wrong and could almost quantify the nature of the disconnect, but she had a hard time acknowledging that there could be such a broad disconnect in the minds of people.

As we reach the end of the book, another climactic event sets events into turmoil. I "predicted" one potential "sad" ending for the book and was actually relieved to see the book turn out the way it did. There was still a degree of ambiguity as to exactly what happened, but I agree with Heck that there are times when things should be left alone. Regardless of what actually/definitively happened, the end result is good for the community. I'm a little concerned to know what happens to the Ewells and to Boo, but those sort of "loose ends" are to be expected in a novel with such an extensive depth.

There are so many wonderful themes in this book. The racial tension and description of southern life and souther racism are at the forefront. But Lee also explores themes of class and family structure, moral courage and the nature of innocence. The idea of innocence was especially interesting to me and felt especially poignant with the book coming from the voice of a young child going through such adult ordeals. Scout's innocence about the world slowly fades as she watches the destruction of Tom's innocence as well as having her conceptions of Boo Radley transform from one of horror/monster to innocent and heroic.

I am very glad I finally got around to reading this book. I feel like it is a great commentary on culture, society and prejudice. I loved the narrative voice, the humor and fun way such a heavy bunch of themes were presented. I really enjoyed the discussions between Scout, Atticus, Jem and the others. The characters were deep and very well developed and provided great depth to the story. There are so many small threads running through the story that I'm sure there is a lot to digest beyond the first read (aspects such as the fire, the teaching methods in the school, the various gifts in the tree, the other inhabitants on Scout's street, etc). This is a rich and wonderful novel that I will gladly read again.

*****
5 out of 5 stars
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LibraryThing member reading_fox
Charming and delightful, and at times heartwrenching. Set in 1935 but written in 1960 it features a couple of years in the life of 8yr old Jean Louise Finch, called inexplicably Scout. She lives with her brother Jem in a small town, Maycomb in Alabama. Her father is a lawyer, and one day is appointed to defend a Negro who is accused of raping a white trash family's oldest daughter.

The story is potently told from the view of the 8yr old Scout, small town events set the scene in the year before the trial. Large as life characters play out the small dramas that fill any minor town; Scout starts school and various neighburs are introduced and predudices confrimed. People of Colour are either Negros or niggers depending on a person's background. The looming war in Europe merits two paragraphs, but the plight of the jews is interestingly compared to that of the blacks. the trial which is what the book is 'about' features surprisingly little in the life of Scout, and it's only on the actual day that she goes to the court to see what's happening. Scout's life is dominated by a passing friend called Dill - Jim Baker Harris, and attempts to see her reclusive and terriffying neighbour Boo (Arthur) Radley.

Perhaps the actual point of the book is focus on the consequences of people's outlook and attempts by an 8 yr old with very occasional older commentry to understand why people behave as they do. The older commentary is rare but the switch in tense is occasionally annoying, and the only very minor downside of the entire story. The prose is delicate but can be very moving, and captures the innocense and intensity of childhood very well. The story is quite short for a work of this magnitude. The title is one of the many many pithy sayings the various characters say to Scout as part of her education in becoming a lady "It's a sin to kill a mockingbird because all they do all day is sing for plesaure".

A massive shame that this is the only work by Harper Lee, there has to be some suspician that it is at least in part biographical. A wonderful tale, full of insight into what life was really like in 1930s southern america.
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LibraryThing member CBJames
I think everyone in America reads To Kill a Mockingbird before they're allowed out of high school-- I know I did. It has large international following and the movie is also a classic, so I'll be brief about the plot. The novel follows the lives of young Scout, her brother Jem and their friend Dill over the course of several years spent growing up in a small southern town in the 1930's under the guidance of Scout and Jem's father Atticus.

Throughout the first half of the novel the children have a series of adventures, some fanciful some serious. They learn a series of lessons through the example of Atticus who is without a doubt the best father, maybe the best parent, ever to be portrayed in literature maybe in any medium. I challenge you to find a better father anywhere. In fact, I could go so far as to say that you'll simply not find a better man.

He's so good that after a while I began to doubt him. Can anyone really be as wonderful as Atticus Finch? The narrator, Scout, is a devoted daughter who has not yet reached the age when she would begin to find fault in her parents. But, to her credit, Mr. Lee does us show Atticus's weak spots. He is not free of racism, nor sexism. (No man in 1930's America could be.) But you'll have to be a careful reader to spot these faults and basically merciless not to forgive them. This is Atticus Finch we're talking about after all.

Reading the book this time around, I found close links between To Kill a Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn . Both novels are about white children dealing with black adults. In both novels this distancing is used to promote an anti-racism message and to make it safer to critique American society. At the time of their publication, both novels were set in the recent past, when things were much worse "than they are now." (One could argue a character by character match-up: Scout = Huck, Dill = Tom Sawyer, Mr. Ewell = Huck's father.) And both novels feature a strong dramatic shift about halfway through when they stop being a series of adventures and start to develop a traditional story line.

It is only once Atticus begins to defend Tom Robinson, a black man wrongly accused of raping a white woman, that To Kill a Mockingbird begins to follow a clear plot arc. I am a sucker for courtroom drama, and the courtroom drama in Mockingbird is excellent. (It must have been the easiest part of the book to adapt for the screen.) An innocent family man wrongly accused, a stalwart defense attorney, unreliable witnesses for the prosecution, a curmudgeon judge with a short temper. It's great stuff.

But I'm not gushing. Not me. Okay, I find that I am, maybe a little. Which may just be an example of why To Kill a Mockingbird enjoys the success it does. It has the ability to win over readers in spite of themselves. What won me over this time is finding how much I like the character of Atticus Finch, how much I want him to be real. He deserves his place in the pantheon of great American characters.
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LibraryThing member Smiler69
What more could I possibly say about this novel that hasn't been said before? That it's brilliant? Check. That it surpassed my expectations? Check. That Harper Lee's insight and keen observations on human nature can be both sublime and painful to read? Check, I'm sure. So I'll just share a couple of quotes. The first stood out to me because it was so simply expressed, but in that simplicity, all the tension of the scene was immediate. It almost felt like a scene from a classic Western movie, as the two opposing factions are about to face off. The second scene, featuring some brilliant dialogue was—on the surface anyway—very funny to me. But I felt I also shared Scout's bewilderment to be listening to this most Christian of ladies speak so patronizingly of the blacks of Africa and Maycomb alike:

"Nothing is more deadly than a deserted, waiting street. The trees were still, the mockingbirds were silent, the carpenters at Miss Maudie's house had vanished. I heard Mr. Tate sniff, then blow his nose. I saw him shift his gun to the crook of his arm. I saw Miss Stephanie Crawford's face framed in the glass window of her front door. Miss Maudie appeared and stood beside her. Atticus put his foot on the rung of a chair and rubbed his hand slowly down the side of his thigh."

"What did you all study this afternoon?" I asked.
"Oh child, those poor Mrunas," she said, and was off. Few other questions would be necessary.
Mrs. Merriweather's large brown eyes always filled with tears when she considered the oppressed. "Living in that jungle with nobody but J. Grimes Everett," she said. "Not a white person'll go near 'em but that saintly J. Grimes Everett."
Mrs. Merriweather played her voice like an organ; every word she said received its full measure: "The poverty...the darkness...the immorality—nobody but J. Grimes Everett knows. You know, when the church gave me that trip to the camp grounds J. Grimes Everett said to me—"
"Was he there, ma'am I thought—"
"Home on leave. J. Grimes Everett said to me, he said, 'Mrs. Merriweather, you have no conception, no conception of what we are fighting over there.' That's what he said to me. "
"Yes ma'am."
"I said to him, 'Mr. Everett,' I said, 'the ladies of the Maycomb Alabama Methodist Episcopal Church South are behind you one hundred per cent.' That's what I said to him. And you know, right then and there I made a pledge in my heart. I said to myself, when I go home I'm going to give a course on the Mrunas and bring J. Grimes Everett's message to Maycomb and that's just what I'm doing."
"Yes ma'am."
When Mrs. Merriweather shook her head, her black curls jiggled. "Jean Louise," she said, "you are a fortunate girl. You live in a Christian home with Christian folks in a Christian town. Out there in J. Grimes Everett's land there's nothing but sin and squalor."
"Yes ma'am."
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LibraryThing member justchris
I reread To Kill a Mockingbird again this year. I think it's becoming an annual thing because this book is simply brilliant. It may be the only book that Harper Lee ever wrote, but it's a hell of a legacy by itself. I recently heard the author described as essentially the epitome of a Southern Democrat.

I think most people are familiar with the gist of the story: Tom Robinson, a black man, is accused of raping a white girl (Mayella Ewell). Atticus Finch is the attorney appointed to defend him in this courtroom drama. But the story isn't just about the trial, which actually takes up very little of the novel. Instead, it's an incredible portrait of small-town southern life and the complex mosaic of relationships and interactions among blacks, whites, rich, poor, educated, and ignorant.

Scout, the eight-year-old daughter of Atticus Finch, is the narrator, and her ignorance and innocence and preoccupation with childish things act as a very effective lens shining a light slantwise on the dark side of human nature and the ills of racism, since confronting these things directly is still so very difficult even today.

Thank you Emily Dickens for your words:
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant---
Success in Cirrcuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind---

And so it is with this story, building gradually from the normalcy of everyday life of playtime and school, to the pretrial rumors and taunts and attempted lynching, to the crisis of the trial itself, and the aftershocks culminating in the climax and resolution that give the book its title. The way is paved with amazing characterizations and dialogue. The writing is wonderfully evocative of the era. The child's voice and perspective are perfectly portrayed. I can't think of any single flaw, though I'm certainly willing to listen if someone else disagrees.
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LibraryThing member BookishDame
I recently decided to reread "...Mockingbird" because of its great impact on our society in the 1950s and '60s, because of the recent debaucle of a trial for Cayle Anthony murder, and because I missed it. Called the best book written in th 20th century by critics, this book is timeless and life-changing.

I remember when I first read it in school and how it shocked and delighted. It was the 1960's during the uprisings for equality and civil rights. No better time to read Harper Lee's morality story about a precocious child who didn't see color or "difference."

This is a book for all times, one everyone should read once...and maybe more than once. It's a lesson worth reminding ourselves about. Truth and justice in our society matters a great deal...
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LibraryThing member baswood
I had seen the film starring Gregory Peck as Atticus many moons ago and would never have bothered to read the book had it not been a choice of my book club, however having just read [Invisible Man] by Ralph Ellison I wondered how it would compare on race issues in America during the mid 20th century. Well the short answer is it doesn't. Whereas Ellison's book was an adult novel, angry at times and encompassing issues of protest against the position of Black people in America, Lee's book is a young adult novel more concerned with issues of raising children in a small town in America's southern heartland, where the position of the black minority is highlighted by the impossibility of a black man to get a fair trial at the hands of an all white jury.

The books central concern is with how the two children of a liberal lawyer cope with the animosity stirred up by Atticus acting as a defence lawyer to a black man accused of raping a white woman. The trial does not so much as divide the community as pitch most of them against Atticus in varying degrees. The position of the black minority is one of stasis, they are despised by most white people living at the poor end of the social spectrum and tolerated in varying degrees by most others. They are accepting of their fate, relying on the church and employment by white people for their economic survival; they are relatively safe as long as they know their place, but when one of their community crosses a line between them and the poor whites then violence against them will be the result. This is America (Southern States) in the 1930's.

The trial of Tom Robinson while taking up the central part of the book it is not the central issue. We are not made aware of charges against him until well into the novel and he fades from our view long before the novel finishes. The novel ends with a retributory attack on Atticus' children and the solving of the mystery of Boo Radley, which was a feature of the early chapters. This is a book written from a child's perspective, Scout is about 8 years old when the major events take place. Her home life with elder brother Jem their friend Dill their father Atticus, and their black maid Calpurnia is portrayed in some detail. It is written in the first person with Scout looking back over the events that were so important for her formative years and we do not know what she really thinks about them now. Lee wisely does not try and see the events exclusively through the eyes of the 8 year old Scout, but uses her older self to provide some analysis. This works quite well, however where the book runs into trouble is when it has to engineer situations where the 8 year old can be present to witness events, here the readers incredulity is put under some strain. For example the children are allowed in the courtroom to witness the trial, they disobey their father and Scout is instrumental in stopping a possible lynching. This is all kids stuff and what you might expect in a YA Novel.

Atticus is set before us as a shinning light of liberalism, his children are basically good kids, who occasionally get up to mischief. They learn their lessons well and we as readers are expected to do the same and this is where I found issues with the book: It is too simplistic in its down home folksiness. Don't get me wrong Atticus, is a father it would be a privilege to have, but his wise words and upright citizenship, don't quite ring true with the final compromise which means we can all feel good about the ending of the book.

This is a book about growing up in a town in the South of the USA where segregation of the races is normal. What is not normal is Atticus' determination to treat everybody equally and always to look for the good in the most unpleasant characters. He comes across as a heroic and courageous man, a guiding light for his children to live up to and so surely an ideal subject for an excellent Young Adult novel, but great literature it isn't. I would rate this at 4 stars for it's feel good factor (if you are white that is, because guess who is the only person to get shot).
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LibraryThing member rainpebble
There have been so many good, great, and wonderfully written reviews on this book that I don't really see one more making any difference.
What I will say is that this is a book that does not leave your heart nor your mind when you have finished reading it. It is a work more brilliant than brilliant. The characters become immediately enmeshed in your heart and you care about them so very much. Even Mrs. Dubose and Aunt Alexandra and Dill had me wrapped around his little finger from his first appearance on the page.
"To Kill a Mockingbird" is a beautiful work of prose and I won't soon forget it. Now I understand why my 91 year old mother reads it several times a year. It is, simply put, a book one falls in love with.
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LibraryThing member porch_reader
This is one of the best books I've ever read. (Maybe THE best? Time will tell.) There is little that I can say that hasn't been said before, so I'll just note a few of my reactions rather than writing a "formal" review.

This book was about the characters for me. I feel like I've known them for a long time. Even more, it was clear that Harper Lee knew them well and let us into their lives through small revealing details. The relationship between Scout and Jem changed and developed naturally as both grew older. Atticus, as a single father, had an amazing rapport with his kids that brought out the best in them, and Cal clearly served an important role in helping Scout and Jem grow up too. These are characters that I wish I could visit again. What became of them? How did the end up? (Although sometimes I think that those questions are best left to our imaginations.)

Of course, To Kill a Mockingbird also provides a richly textured look at attitudes about race in the South during the 1930s. As Atticus defends a black man accused of raping a white girl, Harper Lee shows that the shades of gray that existed in race relations in the South. The story is captivating. This is an important book, but it is also an accessible book. It was hard to put down.

It is no surprise that this book has received so much recognition and critical acclaim. It is an amazing story. If you haven't read it, don't hesitate. Just dip into the first chapter. Scout will help you find your way from there.
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LibraryThing member mrsdwilliams
It's been years since I read this beautiful coming of age story and it was time to revisit it. Scout is one of my favorite characters of all time. I love how upset she gets when her teacher, horrified that Scout knows how to read at the beginning of first grade, tells her to stop reading with her father at home. And her relief when Atticus says they will continue to read together, but they won't tell the teacher...

Even though I have probably read this book about 20 times now, I discover new things to love about it with each reading. This time, I especially appreciated the beauty of Scout's relationship with her father. As my own father has recently resurfaced in my life (an unwelcome event, to say the least), I have been thinking a great deal just lately about the nature of fatherhood.

As Scout gets to know the local crazy man and watches her father defend a black man accused of raping a white woman, she learns about the nature of justice and the dangers of judging others only by what you think you know.

This is a classic for a reason (and the movie's pretty good, too).
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LibraryThing member camillahoel
I held off reading this book for ages. Mainly because someone described it as a book about growing up in the South. While accurate, this is not all it is, and it is not the best selling point when describing a book to me: the bildungsroman has never been my favourite genre, and the American South not my favourite region. I also tend to be more drawn to European classics than the American ones (I do not know why; I am sure there is a sensible explanation that does not make me look like a bigot).

I do, however, feel drawn to the Truman Capote/F. Scott Fitzgerald New York scene of American writing, and it was via this avenue that I finally discovered Nelle Harper Lee for myself. She was a childhood friend of Capote, and I had heard that one of the characters in To Kill a Mockingbird was based on him. Naturally, I had to read it. Thus my discovery of one of the truly great books of the world.

It reminded me of all that is lovely about the American South; equally importantly, it dealt with the difficult questions of the region without becoming tiresome. I quickly lost sight of my original reason for reading it (the Capote character), although the semi-autobiographical side to the book kept my interest up in the beginning.

Words like "compelling" have lost much of their meaning through over-use, which is sad because it suits the book perfectly. It is also perfectly plotted, quite apart from the important themes it deals with. Each strand of the story, which is skilfully made to seem like simply an episode or moment of small town life becomes important in the story as a whole: Boo Radley, Tom Robinson, the pride of the Cunninghams, the difference between the Cunninghams and the Ewells, Mrs Dubose, the rabid dog, Atticus' sense of honour and his ability to do what is necessary, all come together; and I cannot find fault with the claim that opens the book, that to make sense of Jem's broken arm, the story must begin where it does. The variety of impressions and local sketches, then, do not only have a value in their own right as creating an image of a particular time and place, they also have a place in a tightly constructed plot. Still, I would argue that the road to the end is still the main point.

The treatment of racism is of course a central theme, and one which makes it all the more mind-boggling that people keep trying to have the book banned for its use of the word "nigger". It is so clear in its denunciation of the racism as the blight on an otherwise good society, that one must question whether those who object to it can read at all (as I believe Harper Lee did at one point). Still, reducing the book to its treatment of race is as problematic as presenting it as a book about growing up. Its many-facetedness is part of its particular charm: it deals with gender, class, ethics, law and morals as sides to the same problem as the question of race.

I cannot end this without noting that I loved her language. I have always had a secret love for the Southern American dialect (some versions of it, anyway; and Alabama is high on the list, as is Louisiana), and I could hear it while reading. This is rare. It is not the dialect I fall into while reading, usually; I must therefore conclude that it is due to the rhythm of the words themselves. In addition, the voice of the narrator, that of a little girl who has grown up, held a particular appeal for me. The story, which weaves through terrible questions of a travesty of justice founded in racism, domestic violence, terrible poverty, class distinction, gender questions, education and crime, does so in such a light, simple and straightforward way, and with lovely such humour and ironic treatment of absurdities, that you are left with all your energy intact. As I said, I love the style.

More than all this, however: I love Atticus Finch. I defy anyone not to.
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LibraryThing member peterwall
To Kill a Mockingbird persists as classic literature not because Atticus Finch incarnates modern values in 1930s Alabama—he doesn't—but because Harper Lee wrote into her story the complex problem of cultural change, the resistance of adults, the malleability of children, and the danger of acculturating into rigidity by coming of age. Scout is a naïve narrator; she does not comment on the problem of overcoming racism and its resulting iniquities, but describes its manifestations in service of her own story, which might be styled, "How Jem Broke His Arm and Atticus Lost Tom Robinson." The truer story hides in the details: "How a Culture Resisted Good, without its People being Evil."

Modern readers have criticized To Kill a Mockingbird, and Atticus Finch, for failing to be angry enough about the injustice of racism, and have read the book as very nearly a defense of systemic racism. Atticus, the apparent moral center of the story refuses to hate Bob Ewell and Adolf Hitler; he allows cultures and mob mentalities to excuse the acts of evildoers. But the final pages of the book reveal his flaw: his accommodation of Bob Ewell was surely mistaken—the man attacked his children! When Heck Tate insists that Jem will not be accused or exonerated in the murder of Ewell, that Atticus shall not allow his son to stand trial, Atticus' moral code disintegrates. He is no longer the lawyer who had to defend Tom Robinson, or forfeit the right to tell his children what to do; he becomes a father who, instead of laying bare the truth for his children, obscures it by complicity with Tate, and leaves Scout's naïveté intact—Bob Ewell fell on his knife. There is no simple, smooth transition from old ways to new. The torch is passed from Atticus to Jem and Scout, who stand to advance the cause of justice even further than Atticus was able to take it.

Throughout the book, Scout sees and experiences the changes in outlook that come with age, embracing the new ways, even as she feels the pull of acculturation into the old ways. She is puzzled that Aunt Alexandra refuses to let her associate with the blacks or the poor white trash, but, even as she is unable to articulate her reasons, she resists the old ways of the Southern Woman. There are hints that Jem is more susceptible to acculturation, until the conviction of Tom Robinson, contradicting the evidence he weighed in court himself, breaks his faith in the populace. Jem will surely grow into the angry idealist prized by the critical modern readers; but Scout, who seems to believe in democracy, will probably be a more innocently color-blind adult.

And the old ways are troublesome. Families, and "old" families, are socially constructed from nothing but gossip and endowed with "streaks" to favor certain vices. Only Atticus and the children perceive individuals where everyone else sees Ewells and Cunninghams and Finches. And even as the other children, toward the end of the book, recognize the problem with Hitler rounding up the Jews, Cecil Jacobs reveals how hard the old ways die: "They're white, ain't they?" he says of the Jews, demonstrating both his capacity for charity when applied to circumstances abroad and his abject failure to recognize the circumstances of his own community.

To Kill a Mockingbird is not a tragedy of racism, but a tragedy of the human failure to overcome its homegrown evils. Culture constrains progress, perhaps even by definition, and makes its participants and creators, apparent free will and all, blind to the alternatives that might be clear to outsiders. And we, the readers, are obviously outsiders; we see clearly the shortcomings of everyone in the story, including Atticus Finch, who is not the apex of justice, but only an earlier step in the long march to the future.

The ladies' meeting toward the close of the book, to discuss the "sin and squalor" of foreign lands, is a blast of irony, coming just as Scout, the unwitting anthropologist, is completing her own record of the sin and squalor of Maycomb County. To Kill a Mockingbird is not about the evil of the old ways, but about how difficult it is for the new ways to take hold, even when they are obviously better.
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LibraryThing member Zoes_Human
I finished my re-read of this book at Biscuit Head today. The counterman, upon seeing a clearly emotional woman, came over to see if he could help. When I explained that my behavior was the result of a book not of the bacon or some real-life monster, he asked what I was reading. I showed him the cover. He inhaled deeply, nodded understandingly, patted my shoulder sympathetically, and walked away.… (more)
LibraryThing member mikemillertime
An elegant, natural, charming comin-of-age narrative set in the South, Lee writes such pleasant little exchanges of small-town life, that only at the end do you realize the tight, interwoven and magnificent epic that "Mockingbird" really is.
LibraryThing member edgeworth
It's always nice to read a classic, revered work of literature and find that you agree with the consensus. To Kill A Mockingbird is a fantastic piece of writing, and its message is nearly as important today as it was when written.

I knew the book followed a white lawyer representing a black man in a racist Southern town; what I didn't know was that it's narrated by the lawyer's young daughter. Scout Finch is as naive as you'd expect a six or seven year-old girl to be, but she's intelligent. She asks questions that challenge the 1930's status quo, making people re-examine their fundamental beliefs in the way that only a child's honest question can. Her father Atticus Finch - who is clearly, even from the very opening pages, a Great Man - does his best to raise her and her brother Jem in the absence of their mother, to conduct himself well as a father, a person and a lawyer, and to teach her about the world as best he can.

The novel could have been quite depressing. It's about a black man accused of rape on circumstantial evidence, an innocent man who suffers greatly because of the prejudices and stupidity of the white community. Yet there's a warmth to the book, a great sense of kindness, a call to be fair and courageous and a good human being. Atticus Finch may have gained fame for his personification of Justice, for his selfless defence of an innocent black man, but I found his most beautiful and touching character trait to be his determination to instill these values in his children.

Lee tells her story simply. There's no great visual language or metaphor or particular skill with prose. This creates an appropriate comfortable sense to the book, as though it's being related by the fireplace in that homely Southern house. And behind the seemingly simple words are an ocean's worth of symbolism and thematic depth. This is not just a book about racism; it's about prejudice in general, about how ignorant and bigoted humans can be, and for that it has a timeless resonance. I read A Passage To India last year, about an Indian man unjustly accused of rape in the 1920's, and I didn't review it - partly because I read a lot of books while camping and didn't want to face a stack of reviews upon return, and partly because I wasn't sure how to approach it. It's a great novel, but it rests largely upon its social commentary about the disparity of the British and the Indians, a disparity that history resolved more than sixty years ago.

Has America's racial problem been solved since 1960? Many people said, following Obama's election, that the US had moved "beyond race." The outpouring of xenophobia and hatred towards Obama (slotting in neatly with American Islamophobia, despite the fact that he's not Muslim) is evidence that no, it hasn't. Things may be better than in 1960, but the US is a long way from perfect racial harmony.

Even if it were, To Kill A Mockingbird would still be an important book, not just for historical reasons but because of prejudice and ignorance in general. I noted that several times throughout the book, Atticus tells Scout that you should never judge somebody until you've walked in their shoes or put yourself in their skin - you may not agree with them, or like what they're doing, but it's vital to try to understand their motives. Even if America was a racial paradise, I'm sure the government would still be peddling the notion that Islamic terrorists attack the US simply because "they hate us."

Courage, compassion, respect, honour, dignity, honesty, integrity and love in less than 300 pages. What a great book.
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LibraryThing member stafinois
Best book ever. Period. This is the third time that I've read it, and it still affects me the same as the first time I read it.

The book is heavy and lighthearted at the same time. It covers very serious topics, but is told from the perspective of a young girl.

If you haven't read it, do.… (more)
LibraryThing member GCPLreader
Congratulations, Harper Lee, on the 50th anniversary of your masterpiece.

thank you
thank you
thank you
LibraryThing member silenceiseverything
To Kill a Mockingbird is one of those books that almost every single student was assigned to read in high school whether it be a real high school or one of those fictional high schools we all see in movies and television. Woefully, I was not one of those students. And since I was (and still am) a proud nerd and bookworm, I was really looking forward to reading this as soon as I entered high school. I was so disheartened when I wasn't assigned this book or Shakespeare or Catcher in the Rye; you know, all of those books that are supposed to be a staple of your academic high school life. So, I have tried to rectify that and thought To Kill a Mockingbird would be a great way to do so. And I was not disappointed.

I'm also weary of reading classics because I always think that they'll be difficult to read and I won't get through it (like Pride and Prejudice and Rebecca. Seriously, I've tried three times to read these two and can never get past a certain point every time). Or worse I'll get through it and realize that I loathed it. Which would then lead to all of those inevitable looks my fellow readers would give me when I say I HATED To Kill a Mockinbird. It just wouldn't be pretty. So, I put this book off for years. There was no reason for me to worry because To Kill a Mockinbird was surprisingly readable. I thought that it would take me like fifty pages to get into it, but from the first page, I was already entranced in Scout's world like it was my own. Getting into a book so deeply is what I love most about the magic of reading and that was really emphasized in this book.

The characters were all extremely real and I loved Scout, Jem, Dill, Atticus, Calpurnia, etc. Even the Ewells, who you aren't really supposed to like, were all layered and just leapt off the page. The whole situation: the race tensions, Tom Robinson's trial, Atticus' struggle to remain noble, were all the things that contributed to make this book not only amazing, but page-turning. So much that I literally had to force myself to stop a couple of times and savor the beautiful writing.

While many say it's a shame that Harper Lee never published anything again, I personally think that there was no way she would've ever topped the success that To Kill a Mockingbird garnered. Maybe to Lee, it seemed like this was the only story she needed to tell and she told it beautifully. To Kill a Mockingbird has become my favorite read of the year so far (tied with I Capture the Castle) and I know that this is a story that I'm going to re-read over and over again and pick up something new every time. This was definitely an amazing and enchanting novel.
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LibraryThing member Osbaldistone
The recollections of a young girl in a small southern town during the depression. Harper Lee adopts a near pitch-perfect voice of 'Scout' Finch as a narrator thinking back over the events and able to summon the 8-year old Scout to help tell them.
Though often subtle, Lee keeps her eye on the subject of bigotry - bigotry of race, sex, class, education, family - and, through Scout's eyes, shines a spotlight on its cruelty and shows how the seeds are being planted for tidal changes that are on the way.
It's hard to imagine a better storyteller.
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LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
I remember loving To Kill a Mocking Bird when I was a lot younger--though I'm not sure how young--as a child or teen. I had remembered the story best for the tale of the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman in 1935 Alabama who is defended by Atticus Finch.

What I'd forgotten is that this is primarily the story of Scout, the daughter of Atticus, who is eight-years-old when that trial begins--at the opening of the book she's not quite six. And that child point of view is pitch perfect. Until Chapter Nine about 100 pages in, the trial isn't even mentioned--although the theme of race relations is a thread running through from the start. I also completely forgot how much humor there is in this book--particularly in Scout's experiences in school. All through the first third of the book, Harper Lee builds this picture of a small Southern town with great affection, so the later ugliness is thrown into even higher relief. There are eloquent statements about justice in the novel--but Scout's child point of view saves the novel from preachiness, and the trial scenes when they came (only a few chapters of the entire novel) are written with a rare authority; the short biography mentions Harper Lee attended law school. This is no "historical novel." Lee, an Alabama native, would have been exactly Scout's age in the year this novel ends. Lee lived with people like those in the book--she didn't research them. Even portrayals of minor characters such as Dolphus Raymond and Mrs. Dubose are vividly drawn, telling and thematically relevent.

The novel is just a marvel. It's a classic and so often too that means dry, grim and if not pretentious, still a slog to read. It's one I could relate to as a youngster and love so surely it shouldn't pass muster as a mature adult. It was published in 1960--over fifty years ago--so surely it's horribly dated. It's none of those things. This was an absolute pleasure to read from beginning to end with believable, memorable characters, a wonderful voice in Scout, a terrific father/daughter relationship; it's a novel that's warm and dark, often funny that moved me to tears--despite knowing what was coming in the plot. And there are subtleties within that sailed over my head when I was younger. After rereading this, I have to put To Kill a Mockingbird at the top of my list of favorite novels. I can only regret this is the only novel by the author. But what a legacy that one book!

Made into an excellent film with Gregory Peck worthy of the book--but even it shouldn't be a substitute for reading the novel.
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LibraryThing member trinibaby9
This is actually a good book. I would have enjoyed it much more if I hadn't first read it as a compulsory reading and had to tear it apart. I hate being pigeon holed into someone elses view points. People should be able to take from a book what they will. I would say this is definitely worth reading a second time on your own if you were forced to read it before as part of a curriculum.… (more)
LibraryThing member booksandwine
Aside from today being the World Cup Final, it is also the 50th Anniversary of the publishing of To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. If y'all haven't read this book yet, you really need to. It's gorgeous. Saturday and today I took the time to re-read this classic. I know it's silly to re-read things when my TBR is a mile long, BUT some books merit this.I first read To Kill A Mockingbird the summer before 11th grade. It was assigned summer reading for A.P. English. I remember pretty much rushing through it and not really taking the time to appreciate the language. I was more interested in the plot and what would happen. I think on being about 6 years older, I have slightly matured and am a bit more able to appreciate this gorgeous book.I was struck by the moral code of Atticus. This is a man who does not waiver. He perfectly represents Maslow's top level, being someone who is self-actualized. In reading about Atticus, I wished that I could be more like him. His character caused me to examine my own character. Friends, it sorely lacks in comparison. He's just so fascinating. I mean, you could even read into this as a gender studies kind of book, as Atticus challenges societal notions of masculinity and what it means to be brave. Instead of being macho, he reads books in the evenings. He may be the deadest shot in the county, but he doesn't own a gun, nor does he advertise his skills. He's gentle. He's got honor. What I loved was how he is exactly the same in his public life as he is in his private life. I don't see how you can't admire Atticus.What is perhaps the most wonderful thing about To Kill A Mockingbird is the writing style. It's smooth. It flows off the page. I actually laughed out loud while reading, which I would never have expected. Perhaps I was more taciturn in high school? Anyways, wow, this book is FUNNY. It's also heartbreaking. Harper Lee has excellent wordsmith skillz. Her prose is never flowery just to be flowery. Nor is it ever dumbed down for the audience.I wonder, could this book be considered YA? When I did the top 100 YA vote, this book wound up in the top five. Now, personally, I would consider this YA. Perhaps it does not conform to today's flavor of YA, but it has the elements. I guess for me, YA really resonates with coming of age stories, features a young protagonist, and has wonderful pacing. This book fit all of those requirements. I think it has perfectly stood the test of time, and will last at least another 50 years.I can happily say, To Kill A Mockingbird actually improves upon a second reading. When I already know the plot, I find I can focus on other details, such as turn of phrasing and characterization. I must say this excels in characters from Bob Ewell and his dependcy on the county to the Cunninghams and their not taking handouts from anyone to Mrs. Dubose who wants to die free of addiction, I just loved how well done these characters were.Finally, dear friends, I would like to leave you with some quotes which struck me this time around:"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." - pg 89"They're certainly entitled to think that, and they're entitled to full respect for their opinions," said Atticus, "but 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." - pg 105"I wanted you to see something about her --- 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. Mrs. Dubose won, all ninety-eight pounds of her. According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew." - pg. 112… (more)
LibraryThing member terricoop
“To Kill A Mockingbird” is a delightful novel that has had unintended consequences and effects on society. Intended as the tale of two children and their unending quest to lure their reclusive neighbor out of his house, the novel has become a standard and beacon of legal conduct and expertise - the very definition of legal civility.

However, there is a lot more going on here. This is one of the quintessential ‘southern’ novels where everyone is pretty well related to everyone else, but the social boundaries between ‘fine folk’ and everyone else is clearly marked by a boundary that only the participants can see. Scout, at nine, never really does understand. She just sees ‘folks.’ Jem, at thirteen, says he used to think that way, when he was younger.

Which brings me to my next point. This is a story of the essential nature and contrasts that are the lives of children. On one hand Scout and Jem harbor and spin weird fantasies and plots about their neighbor, Boo Radley. He only comes out at night to eat small animals, yet he could possibly be lured outside with a trail of lemon drops. On the other hand, Jem and Scout help their father face down a lynch mob and sneak into a graphic rape trial. On her first day of school, Scout explains the extreme poverty of a classmate to the new idealistic teacher, then allows Jem to roll her down the street inside an old tire. When life was simple and choices were clear cut.

The final undercurrent I will comment on is this book is also a glimpse into an insular small town during the Depression. Times were always hard, the economic failure of a nation only made them harder. Folks got by. Doctors and lawyers took their fees in potatoes and stovewood. As Scout said, ‘there was nothing to buy and nothing to buy it with.’ An interesting insight into our own economic woes.

Why readers will like this book:

This is character driven literature. Even the story of the Tom Robinson trial, so beloved by lawyers, is secondary to the change and development of Scout, Jem, Atticus Finch and even Boo Radley. At the very end as Scout has her realization of just how precious she and her brother are to Boo and his solitary life, she also exults that she got to see Boo and Jem didn’t. Quirky to the end, the book is the essential nature of Jean Louis ‘Scout’ Finch.

Why writers should read this book:

This short novel, the only one written by Harper Lee, is a masterful example of the correct use of first-person point-of-view. The story is always told from Scout’s perspective, yet it is not overburdened with a tedious litany of ‘I this’ and ‘I that’. Any writer that wants to tell stories in first-person can take a lesson from “To Kill A Mockingbird.” There’s definitely more, but that is the overwhelming ‘technical’ lesson to be learned from this novel.
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LibraryThing member SanctiSpiritus
To think this is the only book Harper Lee has produced. But, as they say, it's greatest to go out on top. One word eloquently equals the sum of this book: earnest. The book is not politically correct (nor should any book be). Accordingly, I am sure the book outrages every type of person to whom Harper's message was written. The book tells of the injustices black people did, and have endured. The time period is late 1930's. The story line feeds the reader a view of endurance, moral right, truth, honesty, and that one must stand up for what is morally right in the face of many detractors. Verily, a book every person should read.… (more)

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