Book Review: To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
I received this book as Christmas Gift from my other boss, Magdalene. Strangely, it was one of those classics that I kept on telling myself I need to grab. I mean, you can’t have more than 3 people at any one sitting say that the book is a great classic and you don’t take their word for it. And so when I happily received, it I knew it will keep me occupied for a couple of days, and it did.
I’ll be a part of the static that gives it a ★★★★★, because it’s actually one of the best I have read. It also had some fresh vocabulary that had me checking my dictionary every so often. Since I use the simplest form of vocabulary, I might not use it here or in my conversations, but at least it got me wondering what it means, and in most cases, I had it right from how it was used in the sentence. It’s an exciting exercise – reminded me of Objective English – some English book we had in Primary School with the most ludicrous vocabulary.
Back to the review, I don’t want to pre-empt the book and be the spoiler, so I’ll try give you a bigger picture. Through the eyes of Scout – Jean Louis Finch and Jem – Jeremy Finch, who are Atticus’ young chillun (that’s what the colored folks in the Deep South called children, how cool?), Harper Lee lets us into their lives growing up in the early 19th century. From their relationship with their father, Atticus, who was tasked to defend the real mocking bird in Maycomb County, a black man, Tom Robinson who was charged with the rape of a white girl (from the Ewells family). This scenario brought out the irrationality of the people’s attitude towards race and class in the Deep South. Like Atticus explains to Jem,
There are four kinds of folks in the world. There’s the ordinary kind like us and the neighbors, there’s the kind like the Cunninghans out in the woods, the kind like the Ewells down at the dump, and the Negroes.’ What about the Chinese, and the Cajuns down yonder in Baldwin County?’
‘I mean in Maycomb county. The thing about it is, our kind of folks don’t like the Cunninghums, the Cunninghams don’t like the Ewells, and the Ewells hate and despise the colored folks.’
Even though Atticus thought he’s not the best example of a good father, I would give him 100% for being a super dad. His wife died when Scout was just 2 years and he never remarried, he raised his children as a single parent, and totally winged it. Despite the constant criticism from his siblings and parents on what he should and should not do with them or how he should or should not raise them. He chose to do what he felt was right with them. This had a big impact on their confidence, because they knew that their father always had their back – they had even picked up some of his peculiar habits, which would later act as their cue on how to go about dealing with him.
The moment he was assigned ‘The Tom Robinson’ case, he made a point of involving them from the beginning and even when they would be teased in school, he had already mentally prepared them for what was to come, as well as the outcome of the case, because the justice system wasn’t designed to favor the colored people. He allowed them attend his cases in court so that they can understand what he does from a personal level – and when they wanted to vent about the turnout of events (like when Tom is found guilty by the Jury), he allowed them and explained why it is the way it is, but reassured them that it will get better.
What I found notable was that when Scout first joined school at a tender age of 5, she already knew how to read and write, because she would read for and with her father every day, when he came home from work. He also talked to both of them and reasoned with them like adults, which in the long run made them quite knowledgeable in current affairs, and were rational in their thoughts, as well as morally upright in their actions. He was able to allow them to have their childhood experience, playing games, interacting with neighbors and generally being up to no good. The neighborhood had quite a lot going on and forms most of the flesh of their experience.
Their care taker Calpurnia was such a sport too, and Atticus was quite fond of her. She took care of Scout and Jem like they were her own; and he protected her like no ones business, even from his sister Aunt Alexander. And when at one point when she takes Jem and Scout to her black folk church, they’re baffled at how she was able to lead a modest double life. She then explains to them that sometimes you’re better off talking the language of those around you – for instance when she goes to her church – she puts on the colored –folks’ talk, while she’s at their household, she puts on the white-folks’ talk.
‘Suppose you and Scout talked colored folks’ talk at home – it’d be out of place, wouldn’t it? Now what if I talked white-folks’ talk at church, and with my neighbors? They’d think I was puttin’ on airs to beat Moses.’
My favorite part of the book, which technically summarizes it, is how Harper Lee in a very subtle way is able to bring out the explanation of the saying ‘To Kill A Mocking Bird.’
Atticus said to Jem one day, “ I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but 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. ‘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 rest 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.’
At the end when Bob Ewell, (who was the one that had pressed the charges against Tom Robinson, for his daughters alleged rape ordeal) dies while he was trying to attack Jem as payback to Atticus. Atticus tries to convince himself that it’s not Jem that killed him but rather Heck Tate’s (the Sheriff) version of the story, that he fell on his knife. And to get the assurance that his chillun
just had to won’t despise him for covering this up, he asks Scout,
Atticus: ‘Mr. Ewell fell on his knife. Can you possibly understand?’
Scout: ‘Yes sir, I understand. Mr Tate was right.
Atticus: ‘What do you mean?’
Scout: ‘Well, it’d be sort of like shootin’ a mockingbird, wouldn’t it?
She got it, and I was so excited when I read that bit. I felt like giving Harper Lee a Hi5, attagirl! If you haven’t read it and you’re looking for something interesting to read, go for it. I will definitely check out her other one ‘Go Set a Watchman‘ a bit later, need to marinate on this one first.
My next read is Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi, what’s yours? If you’re on Goodreads, follow me – kawisnippets. It seems like a great app to have to track your reading and to check out other people’s recommendations and reviews. It also makes it easier when you’re picking your next book to read, or when you’re lost for choice at the book store.
Signing Off ~~~ *Kawi*