Book Review · reading

Book Review: To Kill A Mockingbird

I never had to read To Kill A Mockingbird in high school. Just as well. The bulk of the books I was forced to read in high school were boring. To Kill A Mockingbird doesn’t really have the blood and mayhem like the Anita Blake books or the In Death series or David Weber’s books.

But, for banned book week, from September 30 2012 to October 6, 2012, I decided to read To Kill A Mockingbird.

It’s not as boring as I expected. It doesn’t have nearly the same level of suspense and tension as my preferred reads, but it wasn’t boring. Having said that, I don’t know if I’ll ever read it again.

To Kill A Mockingbird is supposed to be a first novel. Frankly, that’s hard to believe. It may be the first (and last!) novel published, but that doesn’t mean it’s the first novel Harper Lee wrote. To Kill A Mockingbird is written very well. It shows the growth of Scott – yes, despite the reviews stating none of the characters grew at all, there is character growth. It is gently shown, gently depicted, so gently you hardly notice it at all. It is all so well-done I can’t believe this is a first novel. I can’t even believe she stopped writing after she finished To Kill A Mockingbird.

I knew from the first sentence that the book took place during in the Depression. The family must have been truly rich before the Depression, to be able to afford a cook and housekeeper during the Depression.

At first, I thought Scout was a boy. Scout isn’t a name I associate with a girl. Plus, it’s the 1930’s, and she doesn’t act the way I imagined girls in the 1930’s acted. She’s a tomboy. I only realized Scout is a girl when someone says her full name. Than I thought: wow, she’s a girl. How wonderful.

I found a couple of things odd in To Kill A Mockingbird:

1)      Scout and her brother call their Dad by his first name: Atticus

2)      On her first day of school, Scout’s teacher is upset because she can already read and write. Part of me is not surprised because I, too, had a teacher who told me not to write in cursive since it hadn’t actually been taught yet. But I don’t understand a teacher who would be upset because her student could already read.

To Kill A Mockingbird is known for being a coming-of-age novel and it is banned for offensive language and racism.

I don’t think anyone can deny there is racism in the book, but the main characters are not racist. Quite the opposite. Many of the other characters are racist, and yeah, that undoubtedly influences the feel of the book.

Scout’s aunt’s group of ladies are supposed to be good, Christian women but in one breath they praise god, the next breath they make racist comments. They don’t see it, and yeah, I think that’s deliberate. I am not sure how Calpurnia (the black cook) stood it. I suppose she wasn’t causing waves, doing her job, stuff like that. Still. I am surprised Calpurnia was able to hold her tongue.

Then there is the whole trial involving Tom Robinson. It was a real trial, and the some of the characters say that was odd. Still. Apparently Tom Robinson never stood a chance. That’s probably what prompted his escape attempt – he didn’t believe justice was possible. The white girl was clearly lying, possible being molested by her own father (she did say kissing her father didn’t count, didn’t she? I don’t know. Possible child molestation there. Not sure.) But lying for sure and no one on the jury cared. It’s not hard to understand why Tom Robinson didn’t believe justice was possible for him.

So, yeah, there is racism in the book. But it’s not really depicted in a positive way. More tragic and sad. I really don’t think that is a reason to ban or try to ban a book.

Offensive language – yes, there is offensive language in To Kill A Mockingbird. Most of them involve race. Many times they are directed at Scout’s father for actually defending a black man. Scout uses offensive words to try and get out of going to school. (She fails in this attempt.) The offensive words don’t show up for no reason, and they don’t show up all that often, either. I really don’t think that is a reason to ban or try to ban a book, either.

I’d heard To Kill A Mockingbird is a coming-of-age novel, but I don’t think it is. At least, it doesn’t go far enough. To me coming-of-age means you are growing up and going through the worse trials of growing up. It’s the transition from childhood to adulthood.

At the beginning of the book Scout is 6 years old and 9 years old at the end. She grows a lot, learns a lot in those three years. 9 isn’t grown up. She still’s a child. At the end of the book, she’s puts herself in Boots’ shoes and regrets she never paid him back for all the little gifts he gave them.

But she still has a lot of growing left to do. She still has to go through the teen years, still has to go through High School. High School will likely be more difficulty than her life so far. Not least, because she still has to yet learn girl skills. Or maybe she doesn’t. But in the time she is living, being a tomboy will only draw criticism. Which sucks, yeah, but gender roles were a lot more fixed back then. I suspect stepping out of gender roles would be very very difficult and likely require all the wisdom she learned from her father. (He raised her to be who she is.)

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