I just re-read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I shouldn’t even try to add to the glowing commentary written about this coming-of-age, Pulitzer-award-winning classic, or to speculate about Lee’s reasons for never publishing again. Except to state the obvious--the book’s incredibly written, beautifully and simply narrated, and a bellwether novel for its time, and I think, for 2008.
What I love about Mockingbird is it doesn’t preach or attempt to teach us about racism; rather we experience it through young Scout and her fellow characters who leap off the page and burrow their way into our hearts. When Scout’s father Atticus Finch the attorney defends Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of raping a poor white woman, he ranks up there as one of the noblest characters in American literature. The courtroom scenes are better than any Hollywood could ever hope to pull off on screen.
Like me, many Americans read Mockingbird back in junior high or high school. But this time around I really felt the hot, sticky weather of Malcolm County, and the tension between the whites and the blacks, and the whites who were racist and those opposed to it. I empathized with the strangely endearing (these days we’d probably call him agoraphobic) Boo Radley. But mostly I fell in love with Atticus—not as a strong father figure this time but as a man deeply committed to the Truth (yes, with a capital “t”) and yet humble enough to accept his fellows’ humanity, good and bad.
I also reread the book in the context of the presidential campaign. And in literature context is everything. In this season of Obama Mockingbird gives us pause. We have truly come a long way, regardless of the outcome of the November elections. That a black man has all but clinched the democratic nomination only four decades after the Civil Rights movement is astonishing.
I’ve got my fingers crossed that Obama makes it all the way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. In the meantime if the spirit moves you, pick up Mockingbird. It’ll make you appreciate how far American society has come.
If you’d like, post your thoughts and/or a review of another inspiring work of fiction with a social-political bent. I may use it as fodder for a future post.