Book Review: To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird
To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”

The publication of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” on 11 July 1960 was a landmark event in literature, not only for its artistic merit, but also for its moral courage.

The novel confronts us with some of the most enduring and essential questions of human existence: How can we empathise with those who are different from us? How can we resist the tyranny of the majority and the pressure of conformity? How can we discern the truth from the lies, and the good from the evil? How can we live with integrity and dignity in a world that is often cruel and unjust?

Lee’s novel offers us no easy answers, but rather challenges us to think for ourselves and to act according to our conscience. Her characters are not saints or heroes, but flawed and fallible human beings who struggle with their own prejudices, fears, and limitations. They also display remarkable courage, compassion, and wisdom, in ways that inspire us to do the same. Consider these memorable passages from the novel:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” This is the advice that Atticus Finch, the noble lawyer and father, gives to his young daughter Scout, who is bewildered by the hatred and violence that she witnesses in her small town. It is a lesson that we all need to learn, especially in these times of polarisation and intolerance. To empathise with others is not to condone their actions, but to recognise their humanity and to seek common ground.

“I wanted you to see what real courage is … It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.” This is how Atticus explains his decision to defend Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman, in a trial that he knows he will lose. It is a gesture of defiance against the racism and injustice that pervade his society, and a demonstration of his moral conviction and integrity. He does not expect to change the world, but he refuses to surrender to it.

“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.” This is the observation that Judge Taylor makes during the trial, as he witnesses the bias and dishonesty of the jury and the witnesses. It is a reminder of how our perception of reality is often shaped by our preconceptions and prejudices, and how we tend to ignore or distort the evidence that contradicts them. It is also a warning of how easily we can be manipulated by those who appeal to our emotions and fears, rather than our reason and logic.

“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” This is the principle that guides Atticus throughout his life, and that he tries to instil in his children.

He does not care about popularity or reputation, but about doing what he believes is right. He does not follow the crowd, but listens to his own voice. He does not impose his views on others, but respects their freedom and autonomy. He is not a conformist, but an individualist.

“Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of another … There are just some kind of men who — who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.” This is the insight that Miss Maudie, the wise and witty neighbour, shares with Scout, as they discuss the hypocrisy and fanaticism of some of their fellow townspeople. It is a critique of how religion can be used as a tool of oppression and violence, rather than a source of love and peace. It is also an affirmation of how life should be lived with joy and gratitude, rather than with fear and guilt.

The film captured the essence of the book. Atticus Finch’s final speech was a brilliant display of eloquence and reason, delivered by Gregory Peck with such skill and conviction that it transcended words, it brought the pages to life. He used every pause, tone, gesture, and expression to convey his message of justice and humanity. Peck understood the words he read delivering them in a masterclass performance.

These are just some of the gems that Harper Lee has given us in her masterpiece “To Kill a Mockingbird”, which celebrates its anniversary today. It is a novel that has transcended its time and place, and has become a universal classic that speaks to all generations and cultures. It is a novel that deserves to be read and reread, not only for its literary beauty, but also for its moral wisdom.

This book should be on everyone’s bookshelf, tatty and worn from the reading… To Kill a Mockingbird

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