By John A. Raju:
A Pulitzer prize winner, 30 million copies sold, a movie adaptation and #1 on many lists such as must reads, best books of the twentieth century, translated to over forty languages and voted best novel of twentieth century, To Kill A Mockingbird is one book that needs no more acclaim to be called a success. Yet many are the number of my friends & peers who haven’t read this wonderful book by Harper Lee.
Avid readers love to read anything termed a ‘classic’ and many, though not all, love to boast that they have enjoyed a classic though it might have been the most boring book and a dry, dragging experience. Not so with To Kill A Mockingbird. A modern classic, written in the 1960s, you need no pretenses with this book. This is one story you will adore, love, embrace and adopt. And here is why.
The story takes place in the “tired old town” of Maycomb, Alabama. Narrated through the perspective of six year old Scout, a tomboy who lives with her ten year old brother Jem and widowed lawyer father Atticus Finch, the protagonist, the story unfolds during three years of the Great Depression and traces the moral & emotional transition of the children from innocence to stark encounters with prejudices, racism, social orthodoxy and the ostracism they have to face because of the moral stand their father takes.
It starts with Scout’s childhood experiences. The kids and their friend Dill are fascinated by the social recluse “Boo” Radley. Having only heard of him and never seen him, they build him up, in their imagination, to be some graphic monster and are terrified but intrigued by him and even attempt to catch a glimpse of him. The mysterious character develops affection for the kids and leaves them gifts but the kids do not recognize his advances for friendship. The narration then follows the fights they get into, the disciplining at the hands of their strict black nanny Calpurnia and the simple yet fun memory making adventures that marks most childhoods. The turning point comes when Atticus is appointed to defend a black man Tom Robinson accused of raping a white woman. Doing his job sincerely results in his children being subject to taunts of “nigger-lover” at school. Despite convincingly proving the innocence of Tom, Atticus loses the case to the racial prejudice, but wins hearts. Tom is shot trying to escape from gaol. Bob Ewell, the man who won the case against Tom, but lost his peace and respect attempts to take revenge on Atticus by attacking his kids. The so far invisible Boo Radley saves them, Ewell is killed and Scout finally meets and likes Boo, also sympathizing with his loneliness.
What makes this novel so endearing is the honesty in Scout’s voice. In humor filled yet warm tones, Scout, in all the innocence of her years describes the society around her and portrays her immense respect for Atticus. The novel does not just trace the racial prejudices prevalent at the time. Atticus comes across as the epitome of integrity. He is at once the voice that pricks the conscience of a society that judges a man on the basis of his colour and the man who inculcates valuable lessons to his kids through example. He scolds Scout for nicknaming Radley and asks her to call him by his first name Arthur. His advice of “You will never understand a person until you consider things from his point of view” is understood by Scout by the end of the story. An important lesson that Atticus imparts is that of courage which he elucidates as knowing you are gonna get licked even before you begin an endeavor, and yet beginning it and seeing it through no matter what.
Despite initially seeing her father as a boring man, Scout comes to respect him and so do we. He is a hero in his own right, who teaches us that most people aren’t inherently good or evil but come in shades of grey. For him, courage isn’t about physical strength but moral power. His maxim “the one thing thatÂ doesn’tÂ abide by majority rule is your conscience”Â is a personal favourite.
Despite exploring the themes of racism, prejudices, the question of good and evil, there is never a dull moment in the narration, the story is well spiced with innocent sarcasm and honest, unbiased observations. One of the most heart warming novels of all time and deservedly voted the novel of the century, you will never regret reading or even re-reading this classic.