I've read To Kill a Mockingbird more than a dozen time, and I still glean something new from my all-time favorite book. Even if you didn't read along this month, I hope you'll take the time to read some of my thoughts.
To Kill a Mockingbird earned Harper Lee a Pulitzer Prize in 1960. The widely read book, not about mockingbirds, is an American classic set in the small town of Maycomb, Alabama in the early 1930's.
Scout (known formally as Jean Louise Finch), brother Jem (Jeremy Finch), and their friend Dill (Charles Baker Harris) spend their hot summer days mostly staying out of trouble and playing games about their reclusive neighbor Boo Radley. As time goes by, life is less about Boo and more about the impact of Scout and Jem's lawyer father and his most recent case. Atticus Finch defends a black man accused of raping a white woman. It's a case he has no chance of winning despite the evidence. Much to the dismay of his neighbors, Atticus intends to defend Tom Robinson.
Family. Atticus Finch is not a perfect father. Some think he lets his kids run wild. However, he listens to them and does his best by them. He may not hug them, but they know they are loved. As one raised by a single father, I appreciate the wisdom Atticus provides. Scout judged the severity of many situations based on Atticus's reaction. He would assure her, "Don't you worry about anything. It's not time to worry." As the older brother, Jem uses the same phrase to help Scout. The siblings may fight, but they also protect and care for one another. Aunt Alexandra even comes to help out.
Prejudice. The Finch's help, Calpurnia, is treated like family. She cares for the children and Atticus and they care for her and respect her at a time when the "colored" help was beneath them.Yet the times are the times. Though Scout has a better upbringing than most when it comes to respecting those of different races, she later responds to Dill's distress with the treatment of Tom Robinson, "Well, Dill, after all he's just a Negro."
TKAM addresses the unique problem of those of mixed races and interracial marriage. Dolphus Raymond chooses to live with a black woman. Together they have children. He walks around drinking from a paper sack just to give others comfort. He explains that it helps others if they can "latch onto a reason" for him living as he does, so he lets them think he can't help himself as a drunk (when in fact, he is not much of a drinker).
I want to think of how far our country has come when it comes to looking past skin color. If it begins with me, I have a good start but wonder how much further I need to go. I have a niece and nephew who are biracial. I have several friends and acquaintances within an interracial marriage. My community is significantly more diverse than where I grew up (which likely remains 99% caucasian). But it's only a beginning.
TKAM also explores social class and what it means to have "background." Jem and Scout discuss this quite a bit and ponder if it is how long a family has owned their land or how long they have been reading. Regarding a friend of Jem and Scout's, Aunt Alexandra explains, "There is no doubt in my mind that they're good folks. But they're not our kind of folks." This makes me wonder about how I find the balance between being a good friend to those different than me (or my children) while intentional about friendships formed, too.
Justice. The American justice system is only as efficient as the men and women who serve within the courts. Atticus defended Tom Robinson, an innocent man, as well as he could. Despite the evidence, Atticus knew the battle was lost before he stepped into the courtroom, but it was a battle he was willing to fight.
Death. I discussed a passage from To Kill a Mockingbird a while back that discussed death with dignity.
If you like To Kill a Mockingbird, I highly recommend reading Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, by Charles J. Shields. Though Harper Lee would not authorize any biography or the content within the book, the author's research and writing was wonderful, even if Nell Harper Lee's life was not all peaches and cream. If you wonder why another book was not published by Harper Lee, Shields attempts to answer that question.
If you are one who likes to consider faith issues, you may like The Mockingbird Parables: Transforming Lives Through the Power of Story, by Matt Littman
If you are curious about the title, Jem and Scout receive air guns for Christmas.
"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.'"Thank you for reading along with a wonderful classic, and thank you, Carrie, for hosting the Reading to Know Book Club!
Did you read along with the book club this month? If you did and would care to share your thoughts/a link to your blog post about the book below. We look forward to hearing what you thought of this remarkable book.