Thursday, February 15, 2007

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

Wow! What a fantastic book. I don't know why I've never read this before. I really thought I already knew what it was about--a girl's father defending a black man for r*ping a white woman. It is about so much more than that, although of course that plays an important part.

Scout and her family live in Maycomb, Alabama. In the beginning of the book, Scout is going into the 1st grade and her brother Jem is going into 5th. Her father is an attorney, her mother died when she was 2, and her caregiver is a sweet, smart black woman named Calpurnia. The family relationship among all members is strong--very strong. Scout and Jem play together at home (but not in school--Jem insists). Scout and her father always read together in the evenings. This is a point of contention with Scout's teacher Miss Caroline. Some of my favorite passages come from this section and they are hilarious to me as a former teacher who now homeschools.

The teacher asks if anyone knows what the alphabet is, and then. . . I read the alphabet a faint line appeared between her eyebrows, and after making me read most of My First Reader and the stock-market quotations from the Mobile Register aloud, she discovered that I was literate and looked at me with more than faint distaste. Miss Caroline told me to tell my father not to teach me any more, it would interfere with my reading. [...] "Now you tell your father not to teach you any more. It's best to begin reading with a fresh mind. You tell him I'll take over from here and try to undo the damage--"

The Dewey Decimal System consisted, in part, of Miss Caroline waving cards at us on which were printed "the," "cat," "rat," "man," and "you." No comment seemed to be expected of us, and the class received these impressionistic revelations in silence. I was bored, so I began a letter to Dill. Miss Caroline caught me writing and told me to tell my father to stop teaching me. "Besides, she said. "We don't write in the first grade, we print. You won't learn to write until you're in the third grade." I inched sluggishly along the treadmill of the Maycomb County school system, I could not help receiving the impression that I was being cheated out of something. Out of what I knew not, yet I did not believe that twelve years of unrelieved boredom was exactly what the state had in mind for me.

I don't want to give away too much of the story, so from here I'll be brief. Scout, Jem, and their friend Dill (said to have been inspired by Lee's childhood friend Truman Capote) spend a lot of time together in the summer trying to see Boo Radley, a neighbor who is a recluse. In fact, they are obsessed with this endeavor. Atticus Finch, Scout's father, takes on the r*pe case. The fallout from the case is felt by the Finches from the community as well as from their extended family. The book ends well, though, with a very satisfying conclusion.

To Kill a Mockingbird won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961 and was made into an Academy Award winning film starring Gregory Peck. It is the only novel Harper Lee ever published.

I listened to parts of this book on Audio CD read by Sissy Spacek. Highly recommended.

Caution: There are a few curse words and adult themes in the book. I would recommend this book for high school level and up.

1960, 281 pp.
Pulitzer Prize 1961

Rating: 5


blfox said...

Incredible book. The kind of book that stays with you for weeks after you read it. Thanks for the review!

Sherry said...

I'm reading this book now, too, for the Amercan literature class I teach at homeschool co-op. And I immediately noticed the very passage you quote, another homeschool supporter.

kardel said...

I read this book for the first time as required reading in the 8th grade. I later read it as an adult and got a whole new meaning from it. I would absolutely recommend reading it again to anyone who remembers it from middle/high school, but hasn't re-read it (or, of course, to anyone who has never read it).

Christina said...

This was one of my favorite required books in high school. It's such a shame that Harper Lee didn't write any other books.