Thursday, June 3, 2021

Harper Lee: To Kill A Mockingbird

I took my cue from blogger Tasker Dunham who lives in the West Riding of Yorkshire, England in the U.K. and decided to re-read a book I had not read since my youth just to see how I reacted to it today and whether it was as I remembered it.

The book I chose was To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

Published in 1960, it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and in 1962 the story was made into a motion picture starring Gregory Peck. Many generations of American schoolchildren have been given the book as a reading assignment. I suppose it is to the late 20th century what Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn was to the late 19th century.

In both books, the n-word figures prominently. It could hardly be otherwise in any authentic depiction of life in the American South during the 19th and much of the 20th century. Encountering the word nowadays upsets people, and rightly so. There is no place in our society or any other for such ignorance and bigotry. The word has disappeared from our culture entirely, as well it should have. Still, the story of that era is worth telling, and it is done so through the eyes of a child.

To Kill A Mockingbird is set in the small town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the 1930s (the author modeled Maycomb after her own hometown of Monroeville) as seen through the eyes of 6-year-old Jean Louise Finch, who is called "Scout" by her father, lawyer Atticus Finch. Other major characters include her older brother Jem; their friend Dill who comes to Maycomb every summer from Meridian, Mississippi, to visit his aunts; Calpurnia, the Finch family's cook; Boo Radley, a reclusive neighbor; Bob Ewell; Bob's daughter Mayella; and Tom Robinson, a Negro accused of raping Mayella. There are several other inhabitants of Maycomb who are minor characters, and their descriptions ring true. I knew these people.

If you have never read To Kill A Mockingbird, I will not spoil it by revealing the plot, but I recommend that you get a copy and read it, the presence of the n-word notwithstanding. Having grown up in the South (granted, Texas is the Southwest, but it seceded, if that is any qualification), I recognized Harper Lee's description of that time as disturbingly accurate.

The film version is one of the few I can think of that very much captures the book on which it is based. (Aside: Another book that I thought made the transition to film well was Pat Conroy's Prince Of Tides, except that great portions of the plot were left out and Barbra Streisand, who directed it, unfortunately cast herself in a major role.)

I almost forgot to tell you. The book was exactly as I remembered it, but this time around I noticed a couple of sentences, widely separated, that contained fine examples of alliteration. Unfortunately, I didn't jot them down at the time and cannot remember them to share with you now. Even the semantic brain fails at times.

I read the paperback edition that was published for the book's 50th anniversary; it belongs to one of my grandchildren.

The girl on the cover is Mary Badham, the young actress who portrayed Scout in the 1962 film.

Using Tasker Dunham's system, I gave To Kill A Mockingbird a 5* rating.

16 comments:

  1. Some books change when we reread them with older eyes and changed perspectives. Some do not. Those that don't are often I believe the 'better' books.

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    1. Sue, or possibly some books change us so significantly the first time around that we still feel their effect in our lives.

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  2. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery (except the remainder of that quotation should surely be reversed). However, I certainly do not live in Sheffield - urghhh! not South Yorkshire - I'm in the Wild West Riding (another fine example of alliteration). I've had it in mind to read Mockingbird at some point (my other modus operandi being to read books I should have read but didn't) and your fine review nudges it up the list. Thank you.

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    1. Tasker, I’m sorry for putting you in the wrong neighborhood. I have changed the sentence. Thank you for calling my post a fine review. I hope it is.

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    2. It's YP that lives in Sheffield.

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    3. Tasker, I knew that. For some strange reason I thought you did too. My bad.

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  3. I had seen to Kill a Mockingbird but never read it until in my 60' I was impressed with the story. So maybe I should red it again.

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    1. Red, Some movies are nothing like the book, but this one did a good job. It’s an easy read at about 325 pages.

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  4. Books like Huckleberry Finn and To Kill A Mockingbird need to be kept alive. Without reading about the way things were at the times they were written we cannot know enough to make the needed changes to our world.

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  5. Emma, it’s certainly a much better approach to finding solutions than banning or burning books.

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  6. I haven't read the book or seen the movie, so thank you for the review.

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    1. Kathy, my advice always is to read the book first and see the film second.

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    2. Kathy, my advice always is to read the book first and see the film second.

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  7. I read "To kill a Mockingbird" in school. I watched the movie not long ago. It stands the test of time.

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