To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

 I often find with well-known books that all the world seems to love that they don’t live up to the hype, but To Kill a Mockingbird certainly does! It’s a wonderful book!

It was first published in 1960 and is set in the Deep South of  America in the 1930s. To Kill a Mockingbird is narrated by Scout (Jean Louise Finch) as she looks back as an adult to the Depression, the years when with her older brother, Jem, and their friend, Dill, she witnessed the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white girl. Scout’s father, Atticus, a lawyer defends Tom. It’s also the story of Boo Radley, their neighbour, a man who is never seen, who is said to only come out at night. The children are scared of him, people said he was ‘a malevolent phantom‘, but their curiosity makes them fascinated by the idea of getting him to come out.

It’s the story seen through the eyes of a child, but narrated by an adult. And it’s told as a series of episodes in the fictional town of Maycomb, revealing the hypocrisy, prejudice and social injustice of the times. I was immediately drawn into Scout’s world, seeing Maycomb and its inhabitants through her eyes.

Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the court-house sagged in the square. Somehow, it was hotter then; a black dog suffered on a summer’s day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of live oaks on the square. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft tea-cakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum. (page 5)

Scout is a feisty character, always prepared to stand up for what she thinks is right, but Atticus, who also stands for justice and the moral and ethical ideal, has to reign her in sometimes. The book is full of strong characters and for me the outstanding scenes are those when Atticus sat reading outside the jail to stop the lynch mob attacking Tom and the trial itself at the court-house. It is all so vivid I believed I was right there with them.

There is so much to think about reading this book and I could write page after page! But here are a few quotations that particularly struck me:

‘First of all,’ he [Atticus] said, ‘if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view -‘

‘Sir?’

‘- until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.’ (page 33)

and

 Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.

… Mockingbirds don’t do one thing, but make music for us to enjoy. they don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird. (pages 99 – 100)

and

‘People in their right minds never take pride in their talents,’ said Miss Maudie. (page 109)

and

People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for … (page 192)

On equality:

We know all men are not created equal in the sense some people would have us believe – some people are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity because they’re born with it, some men make more money than others, some ladies make better cakes than others – some people are born gifted beyond the normal scope of most men.

But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal – there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of any college president. That institution, gentlemen, is the court. (page 226)

The sticking point, however, is that a court is no better than the people sitting on the jury …

11 thoughts on “To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee”

  1. I’m glad you thought it lived up to its hype. I got this from the library a couple of weeks ago, thought I had plenty of time to read it, only to find when I checked this week that it’s been reserved by someone and I have to have it back by the 20th. Which might seem like plenty of time but I’m halfway through another book which has to be back on Monday and we’re away on holiday next week. Why are things always so complicated? Even a simple thing like reading. I may just have to buy To Kill a Mockingbird and be done with it…

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    1. Cath, what a shame! I think To Kill a Mockingbird is a book I’ll re-read, so maybe buying a copy may not be too bad – or can you reserve the book yourself and get it back later on?

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  2. This is my all time favorite book, I’ve read it and re-read it. And when asked what is the one book I would need if I was on a deserted island, I’d say this one. It never ceases to please me.

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  3. So glad you enjoyed this – it’s one of my favourite books of all time! If you’ve never seen the film, I highly recommend it. It gets the atmosphere of the book just right, and the little girl who plays Scout is great in the role.

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    1. I have seen the film – I watched it soon after I finished reading the book and yes that little girl was really good – just right for the role – and Gregory Peck was excellent too!

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  4. This is a book I’ve never read either but reading the comments about the film I’m wondering if we should consider it for next year’s book and film day. It’s too late for this September, plans are laid, but I think I’m going to suggest it for 2014.

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  5. So glad you liked the book and that it lived up to the hype. It is among my favorites and I have a book crush on Atticus. I see you saw the film too which I think is very well done. Of course it doesn’t hurt that Gregory Peck is at his most good looking in it 🙂

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  6. I read To Kill A Mockingbird years ago and loved it. Here in the USA Harper Lee is a true hero awarded highest honors. Several years ago in a local book store I saw the 50th anniversary edition and thought why is it that I do not own a copy of this book. I purchased the book that day, and last month I read it for the third time! My most favorite part, as I also have so many is outside the jail with Atticus and Scout. Everyone should read To Kill A Mockingbird at least once,

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  7. Having grown up in the Southeastern USA in the fifties and sixties, there is so much in this book that resonates with me. Thank you for the reminder of all the quotable words contained inside this treasure.

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  8. Great review of what is a wonderful book. I remember reading this in my teens and being absolutely stunned by it. I have re-read it many times since and I believe it is one of those books, along with the likes of Catcher in the Rye, that should be read for the first time in one’s teenage years.

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