Saturday, May 24, 2008

Harper Lee: To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockinbird: B-
Scout Finch, Atticus Finch

"When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.... When enough years had gone by to enable us to look back on them, we sometimes discussed the events leading to his accident. I maintain that the Ewells started it all, but Jem, who was four years my senior, said it started long before that. He said it began the summer Dill came to us, when Dill first gave us the idea of making Boo Radley come out."

Set in the small Southern town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the Depression, To Kill a Mockingbird follows three years in the life of 8-year-old Scout Finch, her brother, Jem, and their father, Atticus--three years punctuated by the arrest and eventual trial of a young black man accused of raping a white woman. Though her story explores big themes, Harper Lee chooses to tell it through the eyes of a child. The result is a tough and tender novel of race, class, justice, and the pain of growing up. (amazon)

I’m a little sad to say that I was disappointed with this read; it’s a classic – having sold millions and translated into ten different languages within its first year of being published (and this was in 1960). It’s one of the most recommended books – both in fiction and for young adults, and many schools require their students to read it in their English classes.

I’ve heard the title of this book tossed around in so many different instances, I surely thought that it would be a much more intriguing read. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

It took me a week and a half to two weeks to finish this book, and that’s only because I thoroughly forced myself to finish (…must…read…for…Herding…cats…challenge!!...). The first two hundred pages (up to page 190 in my copy) was about Scout Finch, the eight year old daughter of a middle aged lawyer, and her older brother Jem, and their backyard adventures. Their father, Atticus, is a lawyer, and an upright person, but really, the purpose of this book – the conflict of a black man being wrongfully accused of raping a white woman – doesn’t reveal itself until roughly half the book, and when it’s first mentioned, it’s vaguely implied. The reader waits for the ball to keep rolling, and for the plot to unravel after the first mention, but the story lulls until page 192 where Atticus is actively defending Tom Robinson in court.

What happens to Jem and Scout in the long and gloomy pages before the court scene? Nothing, really. They are young kids, with Scout first being six when she is introduced. They run around with their next-door neighbor’s nephew (?) when he comes visiting in the summer. They try to make their other next door neighbor, Boo Radley, come out from his house (they’ve never seen him and there are various myths as to why he won’t reveal himself, what he does in his house – tales that were most likely concocted by these creative children). They love their father Atticus and learn about social justice and rightness from him. Scout is a tomboy and hot-headed – she gets into fights with many kids at school.

All this time, I thought, ‘How cute that I get to read about all of these things and their many adventures, but what I really want to know is the big point of this read.’ And that came at a staggeringly slow pace.

The details surrounding the charges and the accusations are made known to the reader only in the court scene – before, one is quite clueless, which makes sense since the book is from an eight year old’s point of view – yet it required much patience and many flips of pages.

However, other than the pace of the book, the story was very profound in that it discussed issues that, at the time it was written, was something that was of utmost importance (and it can be discussed that it still is). Racism, the accusations made toward Tom Robinson are atrocious and appalling. The treatment of the blacks was equally saddening, and the hypocrisy of the whites of the small Alabama town makes one think about his treatment towards others today. (Do homosexuals feel the same discrimination? Do other minority races still feel the same racism? Immigrants?...)

It was also fascinating to see the lifestyles of the people of a small Southern town in the thirties. The education system, the teaching methods, the do’s and don’ts (Auntie insisted for Scout to act like a girl, to wear a dress, no matter how much she despised it.), and the ideals that dominated the town. (And that Scout Finch is one smart cookie.)

After the courtroom scene, the pace quickened, and the ending came as a surprise but was satisfying.

In all, I understand why the book would be so highly recommended; however, I would say that the book itself is overrated and disappointing for someone who was expecting shooting stars. Furthermore, the slow pace of the book was frustrating for me – I most likely wouldn’t have finished it if I didn’t need to read it for the challenge.

Recommended, but with hesitation.

No comments: