My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Nelle Harper Lee wrote and published To Kill a Mockingbird, winning the Pulitzer in 1961, along with many other awards, later becoming an international bestseller, and ultimately a classic in American literature.
Much of the book is loosely based on her experiences of racism in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, where she was the daughter of a lawyer. Even several characters of her novel are named after her mother Frances Cunningham Finch, and the young boy named Dill in the novel is further based on her childhood friend Truman Capote. In 1962, the book was made into a movie with Gregory Peck.
What strikes me most about this novel is that it becomes political without trying to, and it’s an easy reminder of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin that changed the course of American history (some claiming her book started the Civil War).
Nevertheless, To Kill a Mockingbird did have a tremendous impact on race relations in the United States, and librarians recently voted it the best novel of the twentieth century.
What I liked most about it is the nostalgia of home it brings for me. Lightning bugs. Crazy old aunts and neighbors. Growing up with older siblings. Porch swings. Mystery during childhood. Trying to understand a far bigger and greater world than we can ever come to know. And the small town feeling that is becoming lost in America. Harper Lee did in fact write a great American novel, and rightly so it has lasted, and will last several more generations.
After all these years, I have heard much about this book and one of the principal characters, besides Atticus Finch (father and lawyer), Boo Radley always predominated much of the conversation; however, Boo doesn’t make an official appearance until the last few chapters of the novel, and what a denouement it becomes, despite being the first sentence of the first page: ‘When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.’
Harper’s sentences are lean and precise and the story of a young girl, Jean Louise ‘Scout’ Finch, becomes an innocent glimpse into growing up in the Deep South in 1935. And the writing is all story:
‘When she squinted down at me the tiny lines around her eyes deepened. “There’s some folks who don’t eat like us,” she whispered fiercely, “but you ain’t called on to contradict ’em at the table when they don’t. That boy’s yo’ comp’ny and if he wants to eat up the table cloth you let him, you hear?’ ” (pg 27)
How can one not love Atticus: “Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win” (pg 87).
Also the origin of the title: ‘That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.
“Your father’s right,” she said. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” (pg 103). ‘
So shall you sing your heart out.
To Kill a Mockingbird is a very strong recommend, and I pray for all to have a chance to experience such a beautiful story.
CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy), and a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU. He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979.
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father’s Son (2005), The New America: A Collection (2007), Vanity of Vanities (2011), A Time to Love in Tehran (2015), and forthcoming: Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being; Little Hometown, America: A Look Back; A Time to Forget in East Berlin; and, The Endless Endeavor of Excellence.
You can also follow the author on Facebook @ cg.fewston – where he has 375,000+ followers