To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

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Take away time. Take away place. A story about injustice remains.

Sometimes I marvel at reading my way through the first twenty-one years of my life without having encountered To Kill a Mockingbird. I, an avid reader and English major, who had read such varied titles as foreign fiction like N.P. by Banana Yoshimoto, McCarthy’s Child of God, and some of Shakespeare’s more obscure titles such as Titus Andronicus, had not read the classic coming of age novel by Alabama’s own Harper Lee. Where in my perusal of all things literature did I miss such a  finely crafted and expertly executed novel? Where in my schooling did my teacher’s fail to expose me to one of the most widely loved and, strangely enough, also one of the best written pieces of 20th century literature– strange because what is popular reading is rarely well-written literature.

I first encountered TKM when I student-taught at Lafayette County High School in Oxford, MS. I had one night to consume the 384 pages, which wouldn’t be a challenge but given the wrong book could make for a boring evening. That was not the case with TKM. I quickly settled in to the family of Finches and the town of Maycomb. The novel’s people became my people. I rooted for Scout when Francis crooned offensive words about Atticus and his benevolence in helping Tom Robinson, the disenfranchised African American falsely accused of rape. I shed a tear or two when things didn’t quite work out the way I’d hoped. And I most definitely soaked in every bit of childish curiosity surrounding the enigmatic character of Boo. I was hooked. Not only does TKM weave a story setting out plot, climax, and denouement, but it also manages to create heart within the reader. Heart for the characters and heart for the time period in which the period was written as well as the time period in which it was set. The Great Depression and the Civil Rights Movement, respectively, where two of the most challenging periods in American history and this book inexplicably deals with both of their issues head-on.

I suppose that is why this is a book that “got me there.” Like Scout, I have a hard time understanding why people do others wrong. Maybe that’s my childish innocence or naivety, if you will, but I refuse to do wrong just because others do. It isn’t so much an act of integrity as it is simply the right thing to do.

Atticus knew what he was saying when he said, “before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” This is a golden line from a great work that helped to get me there.

Pages: 384 FOA Pages: 5,241 (The total number of pages reported upon by the Friends of Atticus)

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8 thoughts on “To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

  1. I can’t believe you hadn’t read To Kill a Mockingbird in high school. My class read it in 10th grade. Did Mrs. Pipkin not make y’all read it?

    This is one of my all time favorites. Somehow, Harper captivates the world through a little child’s eyes, and it’s awesome how she describes the gravity of the situation through a perspective that does not realize how important these event are.

  2. bethanycheatwood says:

    I am so glad you loved To Kill a Mockingbird! It is one of the most remarkable books I’ve ever read. I’ll never forget it. Scout as the narrator – perfect point of view.

    On the topic of The Red Badge of Courage – Oh, I love it! I don’t think it’s an appropriate high school read, (I liked it in 11th grade, but my 11th graders last year didn’t) but I LOVE it too! It speaks so much truth, and I love the symbolism.

  3. I just finished this unit with my 9th graders and showed that exact video after we read Atticus’ closing arguments. It’s a slow book, but certainly a powerful one. You really have to give it to Harper Lee that she was able to connect those many dots and show the world something so masterful.

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