‘To Kill a Mocking-bird’ was the first book that I had ever read which was not written in the 21st Century, and ignited my passion for classic literature. I would have only been 13 years old, and so was closer to the ages of the main characters in the book. Although the plot surrounds children, it is by no means a child’s book. Issues such as race, rape and mental illness are explored in this novel, but through the ever-curious eyes of a little girl. I think this is what makes the novel so compelling and unique, and certainly worth a read.
This novel is set in Alabama during the Great Depression. It follows two years of the lives of Scout, a six-year-old girl, her older brother Jem and her lawyer father Atticus. Scout and Jem befriend a boy called Dill and they play together during the summer. Dill is new to the area, and becomes fascinated by a spooky house at the end of the road called Radley Place. It is owned by Nathan Radley, and his brother Arthur (the kids call him Boo as they think he is scary) resides there and never leaves.
The kids return to the house one day and realise some gifts have been left for them in the tree outside. Scout, Jem and Dill make up a story about Boo Radley and imagine him as a terrifying old creepy man who hates children. Atticus tells the children off for being so mean about a man they have never met, and urges them to try and see it from Boo’s perspective. The children do not listen as they are too young to understand what it means to hurt someone’s feelings. On the last day of summer they break onto the Radley property, only to be shot at and chased away by Nathan.
Atticus teaches his children to shoot a gun. He tells them that they can shoot any bird except a Mocking-bird as they do not dig up gardens or bother anyone. It is a metaphor for not attacking or killing a vulnerable or oppressed person because they have not done anything wrong.
That winter, Jem and Scout find more gifts left by Boo in the tree, but they still do not trust him. That night, there is a fire at one of the houses on the road and Jem and Scout have to leave their warm house and go into the cold to safety. As they watch the fire, Boo sneaks up behind them and puts a blanket around their shoulders to keep them warm.
Atticus is a Lawyer and acts as defence for a black man named Tom who has been accused of raping a white woman. Because of how racist Alabama was, Jem and Scout get bullied at school because their dad likes helping Black people. The black community welcomes Scout, Jem and Atticus with open arms and even invite them to their church. One night, a mob comes to Tom’s door to lynch him. Atticus and the children guard the door and do not let them in.
At the trial, Atticus gives clear evidence that the prosecutors (Mayella and her father Bob) have framed Tom out of shame. Yet, despite the hard evidence proving Tom innocent, the all-white jury find him guilty. Tom panics and runs away, only to get shot dead. Bob feels as if he has been made a fool infront of the town and swears vengeance. That Halloween, he attacks Jem and Scout with a knife. They are saved by Boo Radley, who kills Bob with his own knife. Atticus wants to tell the town about how Boo is a good man and is a hero and saved his children, however Scout stops her father and explains to him that Boo would not be able to deal with the attention and it would drive him crazy. By making Boo Radley a hero is to kill a Mocking-bird. Atticus smiles as he know the lesson he hoped to teach his children has been learned.
“People generally see what they look for and hear what they listen for.”
“Atticus, he was really nice.” “Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.”
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.”
If you have not read this book then I urge you to go do so now. The character arch we see in Scout is so compelling- to see her change from a naive young girl to an understanding and compassionate person is fantastic. This novel opens a compelling discussion surrounding how we treat people based on our perceptions of them. Scout and Jem for example are afraid of Boo from stories they have been told, and yet they slowly learn that he is a kind man who simply has some social difficulties. The relationship between Boo and the children act as a metaphor for the race issues America was facing at the time. White people would make assumptions about Black people and so took away their voice, and it was only when Black people campaigned for their rights and showed White people how they were wrong did White people realise that Black people are humans too. Scout is a child and can understand this concept, so why can the adults in the novel not see this? This is a question that arises again and again throughout the novel and is a theme that can sadly still been seen today. The relevance to now is what makes this book not only interesting to read, but important.
Let me know down below if there is anything you want to add or if there are any books you want me to summarise and analyse!
Love from Evie x