Catching up on The Classics is a monthly book club which aims to revisit the influential novels of past generations and to celebrate the classics that have made considerable dents within literature. This months classic is To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird centres on (the white) Atticus Finch’s attempt to prove the innocence of Tom Robinson, a black man who has been falsely charged of raping a white woman. Through the eyes of Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, Atticus’ daughter, the reader is placed in Lee’s detailed fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama.
June’s classic novel choice and the events and ignition of the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement this last month was purely coincidental, and reading this book during these times definitely hit a rather poignant note. Despite being published in the 1960’s and set in the 1930’s the narrative seems all too familiar, especially in the wake of George Floyd’s death – marking this a timely opportunity to reflect on the book in the context of race in 2020.
Generally, there is, of course, a reason this modern classic is such a popular read. Scout and her close acquaintances are loveable characters, the reading of this novel is smooth and genuinely gripping and the overall theme of the novel is compelling. The plot of this tale varies seamlessly from Scouts light-hearted childhood experiences to moments of horror, growth, and social awareness.
The daily happenings of Maycomb are presented at face value until Part Two, where there is a change in the air as Atticus must defend Tom Robinson. Here, the plot darkens and develops into a maturer theme, and the dismal undercurrents of Maycomb are unmasked. Naturally, the trial is a particularly gripping moment in the book, and benefits from the unbiased viewpoint of an empathetic child; as does most of the story, by breaking down prejudiced views and proving that they are something learnt.
Truthfully, I would have loved to learn more about Calpurnia, the Finch’s family’s black housekeeper. The chapter where Scout and Jem (her brother) visit Calpurnia’s church was one of my favourites and subsequently, Scout did make it known that she wanted to visit her family and see where Calpurina lived. It would have been interesting to peer more into the life of Calpurnia and her community. However, It’s worth noting that To Kill A Mockingbird is, in fact, loosely based on Lee’s own childhood and her friends, family and also an event that occurred near her hometown as a young girl. She does state this is not an autobiography, but an example of how an author ‘should write about what he knows and write truthfully.’ So, in fairness, Lee’s novel presents a realistic view of the 1930’s American south, where we learn, along with Scout, just how racism acted during this time, and therefore, assumedly, the segregation between white and black people is purposely apparent.
On a last note, this novel presents a clear view of racism against black people in the early 1900’s, from a white perspective, and is an adequate representation of racial othering in the U.S. It is unquestionably a powerful, informative read that should be on everyone’s bookshelves.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it” – Harper Lee
Buy To Kill a Mockingbird here.
Next month’s book will be The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Grab your copy here.