I last read To Kill A Mockingbird in high school because it was part of the curriculum that term. Not only was that entirely too long ago for me, but it is remarkable what you remember. I remember the childrens’ game about Boo Radley. I remember the trial of a black man who should have been acquitted but wasn’t. But when you do have to read it in High School, there are a lot of things you don’t yet know about the world.
So I was surprised to find it lurking on my bookshelf a few weeks ago as I don’t have many books there that I haven’t read that copy of. Normally, new books go into the “To Be Read” pile. Sometimes they stay in that for years. On the other hand, it was good that I’d found it as the title was again a set-text, this time for a writing course.
It is difficult to summarize the story in a way that does justice to the work. Not having ever lived in the USA, let alone the Deep South, I can’t testify to the accuracy of the depiction of Maycomb Alabama. But that shouldn’t matter and doesn’t matter, because it is realized well enough for the narrator, Scout. Scout is actually recounting the story from years later, but in the narration, starts as a six year old girl and ends the book as an eight year old. And the story is one of gradual awakening to how the wider world works.
Lee lets Scout find out for herself that the world simply isn’t fair and many of the people she will encounter in life can be too easy to argue with. But she also finds that what someone seems to be like is sometimes not as good as what they really are, or even can be. Her Aunt is a good example. Her father another. And do is Arthur “Boo” Radley, in the end.
Scout – and the reader – also find hope that sometimes one man can maybe help change the world. Atticus didn’t get the negro Tom Robinson acquitted, but he certainly made a lot of people think much harder about their prejudices. And along the way, Scout has her innocent prejudices about several other people challenged. It isn’t enough to have the hope; sometimes one must be the hope.
And in the end, this is a story about this hope. You wish for the world to be a better place, so you find something you can do to advance that. Sometimes this takes extraordinary courage. And it doesn’t always work. But when it does, the payoff can be worth it.
To Kill A Mockingbird is a story that is becoming a timeless tale. It’s popularity is going to ensure we will never forget the widespread, casual racism that existed once-upon-a-time in rural America. But it is also going to remind those who would listen that such injustices exist in forms old and new even today. And they probably always will. It is a reminder that we need to fight them constantly.