My journey with To Kill a Mockingbird started a decade ago. And it has been quite haunting. Partly because I had not gotten around to finishing it, and partly because I had not fallen in love with it the way pretty much everyone around me had. Made me feel like I was lacking in something. However, as I have come to realize, not all unfinished books are meant to remain unread. And one of them is Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.
It’s quite difficult to write about what I felt after reading the book, because it touched me on many levels, in ways that I did not expect it to. This is quite an unexpected but happy experience, since I was quite sure I would go all my life without ever understanding what others And I really don’t want to even remotely make this a book critique in a literature course. No. Because the book has way more to it than that.
So let me try. For starters, what struck me most strongly about the book is the relationship between Scout and her brother Jem. Theirs is a quiet yet strong bond that still has many facets to it. At the beginning, she comes across as a guileless and innocent 6 year old who looks up to her brother for guidance. When he says something flies, it flies for her. As they grow older, her expanding mind begins to comprehend the world from her perspective, and as she offsets it against her brother’s she sees that while there are times when their views align, but times when they don’t.
Since we get to hear the story from Scout’s perspective, we also get a glimpse into her turmoil at these times. Having spent a good part of her childhood shadowing her brother, Scout finds herself at a loss when she sees that her older brother needs time to himself, away from her. Harper Lee takes us through this evolving relationship between the brother and sister. However, there are two constants between them. One is Jem’s subtle but ever present protectiveness towards his sister, and two is their father Atticus and his outlook on life which he passes down to his children.
In a story like To Kill a Mockingbird, where there are many shifting planes and facets, there is a need for a strong pivotal character. And that is definitely not Scout, the 10 year old narrator. And we cannot expect such a big responsibility to fall on such small albeit strong shoulders. Atticus is the Rock of Gibralter in this book. Atticus is a single parent with two children and a successful career in law. He is everything parents should be. And he is also a man of strong morals and beliefs, and the gumption to stand up for it. And he stands tall.
You will also come across Dill, a friend of Jem and Scout who pops in and out of the story during their vacation; Boo Radley, a neighbor who does not step out of his house for most part of the book, yet is a strong presence througout; and most importantly the motherly Calpurnia, an African-American who not only takes care of the Finch household, but also it’s children’s emotional and physical needs.
While concepts about race, traditions, gender and education are layered throughout the story, they are cemented with revelations about relationships, common sense, ethics, beliefs, and winds of change.