The hype surrounding the release of Go Set A Watchman this year made me realise that I was in the minority by not having read its predecessor, To Kill A Mockingbird. Secondary school did me wrong. Over the summer, I decided I wanted to see what made this ‘timeless classic’ a timeless classic.
I really wasn’t disappointed! I loved TKAM. It truly deserves all the praise it’s had over the past 50 years.
To Kill A Mockingbird follows spunky Scout Finch and her exposure to the deep-rooted racism and classism of early 20th century southern USA through her lawyer father Atticus’ trial, in which he defends a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. Throughout the novel, alongside her older brother Jem (and their friend Dil each summer), the novel follows Scout’s journey through childhood – fitting in at school, learning some important life lessons and keeping to the sidelines of Jem’s attempts to uncover the mystery of housebound Boo Radley (which makes for an excellent sub plot, by the way).
What makes this book such a standout for me is that it shamelessly faces up to segregation of society in the era. TKAM was first published in 1965. Until this year, southern USA states had operated since 1890 under the Jim Crow laws which mandated racial segregation in public society. African Americans were regarded as second class citizens, ‘separate but equal’*. TKAM, I can only imagine, was a controversial penny-drop for those reading it in the sixties. Lee plays on the inquisitive nature of a child to highlight the serious issue of racial segregation and prove how obviously wrong it was. I loved that.
The characters in TKAM are a diverse range of vibrant, bright, relatable personalities. My favourite of the bunch has to be Calpurnia, the Finch’s black housekeeper. Her presence in the family’s lives was comforting, heartwarming and refreshing. She’s witty and not afraid to stick up for what she believes in. Bridging the gap between hers and the white culture within Maycomb with an air of acceptance and seamlessness is what makes me like her so much.
All in all, TKAM is a classic that doesn’t carry the ‘weighty’ stigma of titles such as War & Peace or Jane Eyre. It’s fun, captivating and, within the context of the time it was published, incredibly thought provoking. There’s so much more I could say about TKAM, but I’d be going on for days and you could probably read the novel itself in less time. Read it! Read it read it read it.
Until next time,
*I’m not going to lie, this is a Wikipedia quote. Whoops.