Review - To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

To Kill a MockingbirdTitle: To Kill a Mockingbird
Series: To Kill a Mockingbird #1
Author: Harper Lee
Publication: 1960
Pages: 309, Paperback
Source: Thank you to Penguin Random House South Africa for sending me this delectable novel!
Rating: 5/5 Cupcakes!

'Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.'
A lawyer's advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee's classic novel - a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with exuberant humour the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the thirties. The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina of one man's struggle for justice. But the weight of history will only tolerate so much.
To Kill a Mockingbird is a coming-of-age story, an anti-racist novel, a historical drama of the Great Depression and a sublime example of the Southern writing tradition. 
To Kill a Mockingbird is a book that has lingered in many conversations; its several additions have frequented my eyes when scrolling through book blogs, and when discussing books with school and blogging friends, they have mentioned that they soon will be reading To Kill a Mockingbird or, if they have read it, it's one of their most cherished fictional reads. It's a classic. It's a banned book. It's incredibly well-loved, incredibly well-known and has been thoroughly scrutinized by academics to unveil enshrouded themes, metaphors and the likes. Needless to say, I was quite terrified when it came to reading it. What if I didn't like it? What if I couldn't see the reason for the hype? What if I didn't understand it? (Classics and I don't always get along very well).

Well, I am extraordinarily elated to announce that all my patronizing thoughts were dispelled the very instant I began reading the words of one of the most well-loved and most controversial pieces of modern literature. When I hesitantly turned the first page, I knew I was in love with To Kill a Mockingbird. I was captivated by the innocent honesty, the gut-wrenching portrayal of prejudice and the cruelty that emanates from those we consider fellow friends, as well as the ineffable surge of serenity that accompanies the act of kindness bestowed upon us. I appreciated the author's courage to include the dark themes woven throughout the book that were tackled in a sensitive manner. Coupled with the simplicity of the writing style and the innocence of the narrative view point, I was instantly able to appreciate as to why so many readers fell in love with the incandescent To Kill a Mockingbird.

To Kill a Mockingbird features 6 year old Scout and her 10 year old brother Jem alongside their lawyer father Atticus Finch. Set in 1930s Alabama amidst the Great Depression, Scout recounts the tales of her childhood through the ages of 6 and 9 in the small southern town of Maycomb County. The family is well-known and respected among the tight-knit town, however, loyalties begin to unravel when Atticus chooses to defend the dark-skinned Tom Robinson, who has been accused of raping one of Maycomb's well-known Southern families' daughter. As insults are hurled at the children claiming their father to be a "Negroe-lover" (something slanderous and obscene in those times) they have to try their hardest to keep their heads up and fists down as their father teaches them the attitude to acquire when times are of a turbulent nature. In this thought-provoking novel that approaches racism, prejudice and injustice, we are participants in the lives of the Finch family and welcomed into the arms of Maycomb County - learning history and how to sail the tumultuous oceans of life through the eyes of an earnest, authentic and intelligent character.

My love for this book is indescribable and I can't promise that I will be able to string together sentences in an eloquent fashion because to be honest, I just want to scream from the top of my lungs "I LOVE THIS BOOK AND PLEASE READ IT RIGHT NOW KTHANKSBYE" - to put it briefly. I can't really explain why I loved this book so much, just that I thought it was a beautiful story that really examines the constant, savage battle of good and evil that wages inside of us as well as the importance of equality and judgement rightfully served - and not according to the colour of your skin.

I loved the characters. I fell in love with the Finch family. It was spectacular to be able to view the hardships of life through the eyes of an innocent 6 year old, without disturbances of bitterness and resentment clouding their ability to retell events that have occurred, but quite disheartening too, to accept the fact that children and really anyone of any age, have to suffer through such ordeals. I loved reading about Scout and Jem's growth throughout the novel and I got a pang in my heart several times, knowing that they were maturing and learning more about the world. It made me feel pride but also sadness knowing that it was negative events that were teaching them, but those fears for their happiness soon dispersed when humanity revealed its kindness once again. I loved how eager they were to learn, and I loved how they wanted to protect each other and their father. 
“Atticus, he was real nice."
"Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.” 
I admired Scout's determination to be a part of things and to prove to people that she could do what they said she couldn't. She was determined and willing to learn and understand all the things people said she was too young to. I appreciated the fact that she did what was right, did what was just and that she was unafraid to be her own person - she refused to let society suppress or dictate who she was. The fact that she is a reader is wonderful as well!
“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”
I loved Jem as well and his thirst to learn and comprehend the world around him. It was quite heartbreaking at times when it was clear to the reader that current events that had happened afflicted him and marked his uncontaminated view on the world. That shattering of fragile childhood naivety  had quite a lasting impact on me: the moment you realise that the world isn't as perfect as you once thought it was is an emotional period and the author captured that feeling perfectly. I found it quite sad, but I also uplifting that the the characters were learning the workings of the world and that when they stumbled upon certain realisations, that they had a father like Atticus to lead them through troubled times.

Which brings me to probably my favorite of the characters - Atticus Finch, a true accolade to humanity. He was so patient, so kind, so intent on doing the right thing and serving justice. Prejudice never swayed him to partake in defending the guilty and deserting the innocent. He was such an amazing person and once I inhaled a breath and blinked my eyes to prevent tears from escaping after finishing such a mesmerizing read, I decided that I wanted to try my hardest in life to be like Atticus Finch. He celebrated the good in people and did his best to understand the reason for evil that resides in some. He tried his hardest to always be honest, always be kind and always be fair and I admire and respect him so much for that. He's such an amazing, inspirational person and I think if we all tried to be at least a little bit like Atticus Finch, the world would be a better place.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” 
“Are you proud of yourself tonight that you have insulted a total stranger whose circumstances you know nothing about?” 
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.”  
All the secondary characters were wonderful too! Calpurnia, Boo Radley, Miss Maudie...they all added a special quality to the story that further aided the atmosphere of a close-knit community and the feeling of family. I loved all three those characters, all authentic, all kind, all honest and all displaying actions of integrity.

The plot of this book was an interesting one. There were lawsuits and childhood superstitions, moments of terror, moments of growth and of realisation, as well as court cases dealing with tragic events. There was the daily goings on in the village of Maycomb that were recorded throughout To Kill a Mockingbird, which is lighthearted enough but then there's a change in the air when Atticus has to defend Tom Robinson, a black man, who apparently raped the Ewell family's daughter, Mayella. Suddenly, the novel grows darker and develops a more mature theme, whilst still keeping the innocent narrative view point so that the event doesn't make the novel's darkness overbearing. There were several moments of suspense that astounded me, especially towards the end as I didn't think those kind of things would have happened.  One of the most suspenseful scenes to me was when Atticus was defending Tom in the court case. I honestly didn't know how Atticus would be able to prove the innocence of a man who allegedly committed rape, but I thought he defended Tom as best he could and it was clear to me that Tom was telling the truth. *Spoiler*I was so completely shocked when they tried Tom as guilty and I had to reread that paragraph several times to determine that the court was being so unfair and so racist. I was even further shocked later on when I found out that they had actually shot Tom Robinson. I'll admit that I shed a few tears. I couldn't believe an innocent man had been killed and treated so cruelly just because of the colour of his skin. I felt sickened at the unfairness and now recalling that scene, I still feel some kind of resentment towards the judges for allowing this biased act of shame.*Spoiler*

I'm glad that I read this book and that Harper Lee was unafraid to write of the brutal truths behind racial prejudice in that age as it made me so much more aware - and so much more thankful - that this world has developed into something that is more accepting and more open. We still have a long way to go, but I'm glad that racism doesn't occur as badly in the countries where it previously did. The events in this book broke my heart and I don't think that I'll ever be able to fathom the absurd notion that the colour of your skin determines the value of your life. 

One last thing I want to include in this review before I stop rambling, is the title. I will admit that whilst I understood the meaning behind the title, I did want to look up any implicit meanings that I may have overlooked so that I could be sure I fully understood it and wasn't falsely interpreting anything before I wrote my review.

And I would like to just say, I think it's truly beautiful how Harper Lee incorporated mockingbirds as a metaphor for the good, just people in this world and how it's a sin to "kill" them with snide remarks and actions that would fracture their souls when all they've brought is good to the world and good to us. I was so glad that I read more into it to fully understand the sublime way in which the author included such a brilliant metaphorical situation into such a transcendent book. 

Especially when it came to Boo Radley.

Despite speculation and cruel comments thrown at him, he remained genuine and innocent, loving with all his heart and remaining virtuous despite the cruelty he had faced. It was truly then at the end of the book that I, like Scout, discovered just how much he had provided the Finch children with love and security and again, like Scout, when she was standing on the Radley porch, we both finally had put ourselves in Boo Radley's shoes and understood him, just by that simple act of motion. This quote below reduced me to tears, it made me realise the pure goodness of Boo's gentle soul and how he had been there all along, silently, inquisitively protecting them:

"Winter, and his children shivered at the front gate, silhouetted against a blazing house. Winter, and a man walked into the street, dropped his glasses, and shot a dog. Summer, and he watched his children's heart break. Autumn again, and Boo's children needed him. Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough."
This book resonated through me to my very essence, it made me comprehend, made me sympathise, made me appreciate. It was moving and deeply inspiring with breath-taking honesty that brought tears to my eyes. Books like this make me realise why I fell in love with reading in the first place - reading makes me understand, it makes me sympathetic, it allows me to think and it allows me to feel. It allows me to walk in the shoes of somebody else facing circumstances that without said book I wouldn't be able to imagine. It allows me to venture into this world with confidence, knowing that I am able to understand somebody. That I can help someone.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a raw, eye-opening novel that had the rare quality of taking issues dark and tremulous, unspeakable and terrifying and discussing them in an honest, placid manner whilst keeping a lightheartedness atmosphere that merges beautifully and seamlessly with the controversial backdrop to display for us a nebula of written splendor. If I could give this book numerous galaxies of incandescent exploding, spinning stars, I would.

I give it: 5/5 Cupcakes! (But I would give it more, if I could)