Normally at the start of my reviews I include a synopsis of the book, however in this instance I’m going to assume you have all at least heard of the book or watched the film even if somehow have avoided reading it. This is a book which has been hailed as a classic since it was published over 50 years ago, a fact reflected in it appearance on the required reading list for most teenagers in English speaking countries at least. For the same reasons I suspect there is little I can say that has not been said before.
This month, in anticipation of the sequel Go Set a Watchman due out in July, my book group selected To Kill a Mockingbird for our monthly read. Now I, and I suspect most of the group have already read it, probably as teenagers. I know I was about 16 when I first read picked up this powerful book. I had escaped it as part of my required reading, however it was on my sisters list and seeing it around the house I picked it up one day. The finer details of the impression it made on me have faded in the intervening 10 years or so beneath a myraid of other important books competing for attention and space in my mind. However I can remember loving it, recognising it had a powerful message and racing through it at a speed I usually reserved for new Harry Potter releases. A reread therefore I felt was justified.
This time knowing the general plot I took a slower, more normal reading pace with the result I was able to notice and appreciate some of the finer details which had bypassed my adolescent mind reading at speed. We all know the book is about race and we all love Atticus standing like a knight in shining armour attempting to uphold justice in an unjust world and impart these values on his children. A fact typified in his edict to the children to shoot all the bluejays they want but “remember that it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird”.
However what struck me more on this time around was the secondary or even related theme on the role if women and the interesting female characters all trying their best to teach Scout how to navigate a society with a very clear expection on the behaviour and role of women, namely to be a lady, something Scout clearly is destined to rebel against. This is the 1930s and the South. Even just Atticus comes out with a couple of phrases which suggest, despite allowing his daughter to run around in overalls, his views on women are broadly in line with those of the time. I had a much greater appreciation this time around for the female characters including Aunt Alexandra who clearly cares for everyone but is hampered by her own upbringing and prejudices. It is a theme I expect may be revisited in Go Set a Watchman.
There is little more I can say other than if you haven’t read this modern classic I urge you to do so. (And no the film is not a substitute, though it is also excellent.)