Wednesday, August 28, 2013

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (18 down, 82 to go)

Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird. ~ Atticus Finch to Jem

This is the second time I’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird and the only novel I’ve read by Harper Lee. The novel is southern gothic, told in the first-person narrative of Jean Louise Finch, better known as Scout. Scout, is a six-year-old tomboy, who lives with her older brother Jem, and widowed father Atticus in 1930s Maycomb, Alabama.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved it, as I knew I would. I don’t recall precisely when I read this the first time and although I loved it then, I enjoyed it even more the second. Indeed, it is my second favorite novel thus far in my quest, and it isn’t a long shot that it will remain so. Regarding my favorite, The Lord of the Rings, I wrote: “I don’t call it the greatest or best novel I’ve read, because I have read a few – a few – that I think are greater literary achievements.” To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the few. It is not only well written and enjoyable, it is a book of profound importance.

There are so many themes; I scarce know where to start. Racial inequality and prejudice are paramount, but Lee somehow weaves such sickening subjects into a delightful tale. She blends it masterfully with themes of courage, compassion, integrity, tolerance, family relationships, dying traditions, coming of age, and more to be sure.

My literary desire to have a hero is well established by now, and To Kill a Mockingbird is filled with heroes: Atticus, Scout, Jem, Maudie, Calpurnia, Heck Tate, even Aunt Alexandra at times, and of course Boo Radley.

A bit of trivia: To Kill a Mockingbird was Harper Lee’s first, last, and only novel. Perhaps she considered this writing business a bit too easy. Besides popular acclaim, it also won a Pulitzer Prize.

(Update to this review: “only novel” is no longer true, as Lee – or agent – published the previously written but not previously published prequel, Go Set a Watchmen, in July of 2015.)

I find Harper Lee’s progressive ideas all the more impressive given the time she wrote prior to 1960, and the era in which she grew up, 1930s. The story cannot be described as an autobiography, but there are clear autobiographical elements. Atticus is based on Lee’s father, while Scout and Jem are more loosely based on Lee and her brother. The most amusing character mapping is Dill who is based on Lee’s childhood friend Truman Capote. The young actor who played Dill in the movie, John Megna, is easily believable as a young Truman Capote.

I am somewhat reluctant to call To Kill a Mockingbird enjoyable. The gross miscarriage of justice is so maddeningly wicked, "enjoyable" does not seem quite right.

But, I think without injustice there can be no hero. So, I confess, I enjoyed it. There are too many tender moments of love, glorious acts of compassion, and triumphant displays of courage that I cannot deny it. A favorite moment, near the end, after Boo “comes out” he says to Scout:
Will you take me home?He almost whispered it, in the voice of a child afraid of the dark.I put my foot on the top step and stopped. I would lead him through our house, but I would never lead him home.Mr. Arthur, bend your arm down here, like that. That’s right sir.

Aunt Alexandra would have been proud, had she witnessed it. Scout was a lady. Not because she knew the proper southern etiquette, and not because Aunt or anyone expected it, but because she treated the odd, reclusive, man-child, Arthur (Boo) Radley with respect and dignity and saw to it that HE escorted HER.

Other Quotations:

Do you defend niggers Atticus? I asked him that evening.
Of course I do. Don’t say nigger, Scout, That’s common.
‘s what everybody at school says.
From now on it’ll be everybody less one…

It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived. ~ Scout

I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. ~ Atticus to Jem

I want simply to tell you that there are some men in this world who were born to do our unpleasant jobs for us. Your father’s one of them. ~ Miss Maudie to Jem

A few more items of trivia, as they relate to the film. He never speaks in the film, and is only in it for about two minutes at the end, but Boo Radley is played by a very young Robert Duvall. And Gregory Peck’s grandson is named Harper, in honor of Harper Lee.

Film Renditions: 1962 starring Gregory Peck. A nearly perfect rendition. Peck deservedly won the Oscar for Best Actor and the film won two others. It was wonderfully cast and superbly acted. Mary Badham as Scout and Phillip Alford as Jem are perfect. I thought the adult Scout narrator, Kim Stanley did a magnificent job of capturing southern grace and charm. And finally, I love the music, especially the melancholy score near the end, the night Boo comes out.



  1. What a wonderful review.
    This is one of my top classic reads too - it's so near perfect that it gives me goosebumps. I'm glad I read the book, before seeing the Peck movie, but the movie was so wonderfully true to the book, that Gregory Peck will now always be Atticus.

    Atticus is my favourite literary father (whilst Marmee from Little Women is the mother). I almost hope you have to dump a book, so that LW makes it onto your list :-)

    1. Well you got your wish. I already dumped Lolita, so LW is now #100. Thanks for all the feedback, and adding a link on your blog. I've returned the favor.

  2. I loved that scene at the end between Boo and Scout as well. It was just perfect.

  3. The last two pages of the novel made me bawl. And in the movie the scene where Atticus on the porch swing overhears Jem and Scout talking about their momma made me bawl too.

    1. Yes, the film is one of those rare ones that's as good as the novel.


Comments are always welcome. In fact, they make my day. You needn't sign in to leave a comment. Just enter your comment, then on the "Comment as:" drop down menu, select "anonymous".