September 30, 2009
Rabid Reads: "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee
Title: To Kill a Mockingbird
Author: Harper Lee
Publisher: First published in 1960
Genre: Southern Gothic/Legal Drama
ISBN 13: 9789573258216
Note:This is the third book I'll be reviewing for Banned Books Week. Quite a few years ago, I understand it that parents and teachers in southern Nova Scotia complained and demanded To Kill a Mockingbird be removed from school libraries, claiming the book's use of the word "nigger" would likely result in the mistreatment and bullying of black students. Along with John Ball's In the Heat of the Night and Barbara Smucker's Underground in Canada, Lee's novel was temporarily removed from library shelves. Similar complaints have been filed in other provinces, too.
I was in the 11th grade when Harper Lee's classic novel was assigned as required reading in my high school. I don't recall a single complaint from students or parents at any point. At the time, what struck me wasn't the racial divide depicted in the novel, but the mangled arm of Boo Radley because my then English teacher had a mild disfigurement to one of his arms ... and that teacher dressed like he had stepped right out of the '50s too.
For anyone unfamiliar with the novel, where have you been?
It's a stark and moralistic tale told through the eyes of a young Alabama girl named Scout, growing up in the depression of the 1930s with her father, attorney Atticus Finch, and her brother Jem. It's through her point of view we experience a telling tale of wrong versus right. The racial barriers of the early 20th century are there, but there's that tone of moral certainty from the characters that rings through to nearly all who read it.
While plenty of plenty accuse Harper Lee of writing a sacchrine novel that does more to praise that era than to admonish it, I prefer to view the story as is--through the eyes of a child. I get plenty of time as an adult to see these issues play out in real life, that while Lee's story can seem like a historical fantasy, it still works for me.
It's been a while since I've read this book, but I've had the chance to read passages and it still takes me back--both to Lee's vision of Alabama and my own vision of home. The characters in To Kill a Mockingbird might be considered two-dimensional and walking props, but even so it's forgiveable for such a work of fiction. The characters seemed real enough when I was a teenager.
Sure, it's counted among my all-time favorites, but I surely won't join the chorus of detractors claiming this to be purely racist drivel.
What did you think of the novel when you first read it? Did you like it, or were you just glad to have one more piece of required reading in English class put behind you? Were you offended by the subject matter or the language used? Do you see any validity at all to the protests against the book, to have it removed from school libraries?