Yup guys, here is the post we’ve all been expecting. Here is the post we’ve all known I would do sooner or later.
If you’ve ever been around this blog or even talked to me, you’ll know I am OBSESSED with To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. And I make it one of my life goals to get everyone I know to read it, because I know they’ll be as obsessed as I am once they do.
So… of course I HAD to do a post on my blog of 6 very compelling reasons you MUST read To Kill a Mockingbird NOW! RIGHT NOW! Why you would wait to read the best book in the universe is beyond me. At the end of this post, you will be clicking on my Amazon link and heading over to purchase it. Yes, you will. *rubbing hands together*
And I thought this was a great time to post this, as my first post of February, which is Black History Month. Mockingbird is the greatest novel about racial injustice I have ever read. It’s a powerful book to keep in our hearts always, not only this month. It completely changed my life and the way I view racism and the human race as a whole. After I finished it I was in a daze, not only because I loved it and never wanted it to end, but also because I realized: No book ever affected me the way it did and continues to do. No book will EVER affect me as Mockingbird does. I knew I would never find a book that gave me the sobs, chills, and joy that TKAM does.
Okay. I am so not done fangirling (that’s what this whole post is, after all), and really do hope you don’t get annoyed by it. We all know nothing’s ever gonna stop me from going nuts over this book. It’s the best book in the whole entire universe, and Harper Lee is the best author in the whole entire universe. We all know it whether we admit it or not.
NOTE: This book review is absolutely spoiler free, so read on with no fear. I don’t want to ruin the book for y’all – you gotta read it for yourself!
I am insanely excited, so let’s just get into this!
First, a little information about TKAM. Time for some fun facts!
Fun Fact #1: TKAM won multiple awards, as did Harper Lee.
Mockingbird was first published in 1960 and instantly became a massive bestseller. It won the Pulitzer Prize only one year later, and was made into an Academy Award-winning film. There are 18 MILLION copies in print, and 1 million copies are sold PER YEAR! It has also been translated into more than 40 languages. MORE than 40 languages! TKAM and its characters are classic masterpieces of American literature.
Besides being awarded the Pulitzer Prize, Harper Lee received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, along with many other honors.
Fun Fact #2: The character of Atticus Finch was based on Lee’s father.
While writing Mockingbird, Lee based her main character and the hero of the story, Atticus Finch, on her own father. Lee’s father was also a lawyer, just like Atticus, and I just love how the character was created after him. It really shows the respect and honor Lee must have had for her father. So that’s a fun fact!
Fun Fact #3: Watch the film after you read the book.
Yes, watch the film! It’s epic. I loved it as much as the book, and it made me cry just as hard. But don’t watch the movie until after you read the book. There are many characters and plot-lines that got cut in the film. Obviously that’s because you can’t fit everything in the book into a 2-hour film, but for that reason I would definitely still say read the book first. Books are always better than movies in my point of view. And if you only watch the movie, you miss out on a lot of epic characters and storylines.
So do watch the movie, but only after reading the book!
Now, on to a brief back-cover summary.
“Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterwork of honor and injustice in the Deep South, and the heroism of one man in the face of blind and violent hatred…. A gripping, heart-wrenching, and wholly remarkable tale of coming-of-age in a South poisoned by virulent prejudice, it views a world of great beauty and savage inequities through the eyes of a young girl, as her father—a crusading local lawyer—risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime.”Credit – To Kill a Mockingbird
That’s the summary from the website. Now for my own explanation, since the back-cover summary doesn’t really tell you so much about the actual plot.
Basically, TKAM is about a Southern lawyer in the time period of Jim Crow, when blacks were treated with horrible injustice. The three-year period covered by the novel focuses on Atticus Finch, the lawyer, defending an African-American named Tom Robinson who is accused of raping a white woman. It’s Tom’s word against the word of two white people’s – the woman, Mayella Ewell, and her father, Bob Ewell. So it’s needless to say he hasn’t a chance, although it’s blatantly obvious he never committed the crime.
In the town of Maycomb, where hatred and racism reign, Atticus Finch is the one man who stands up for what’s right. But he and his two motherless children, six-year-old daughter Scout and ten-year-old son Jem, suffer for it. Atticus is reviled by the town and even by his own family. Scout and Jem are confronted with it at school, which leads to Scout participating in several vicious fistfights. (Which her father forbids her to continue doing.) The hatred for Atticus escalates to the point where his life and even the lives of his children are threatened.
The book is highly intense and emotional, and deals with very heavy themes. I think it was absolutely genius of Harper Lee to choose to tell her story through the eyes of a child. Scout is such a young narrator, and her innocent view of her father as well as the world around her makes the novel that much more compelling. I think Lee’s choice to make the lawyer’s little daughter the narrator instead of Atticus himself, made everything even more powerful. Scout made me laugh and cry with how oblivious she is to the cruelties of the world, including its racism. However, throughout the book her character arc is INCREDIBLE. At the end, though only nine years old, she sees her town and the people in it for who they are. Yet like her father, she chooses to see good instead of evil.
Anyways, let’s move on to the reasons why this book is so life-changing, and why you should not delay one more day to read it!
Reason #1: Good always triumphs.
TKAM had me RAGING at the antagonists. Like, my fists were clenched in anger and I had never been so furious. I didn’t know how anyone could possibly be so cruel. I hated them all – Bob and Mayella Ewell, Mrs. Dubose, even Lula – although she appears only very briefly. I literally wanted to beat them all up, that’s how mad they made me. Especially Mr. Ewell and Mrs. Dubose. *shudders* I would not touch either of them with a ten-foot pole, nor even be in the same room with them. If there’s any book characters I would never want to spend a day with, it would be them. That would be my worst nightmare!
Let’s talk about Mrs. Dubose. I HATED her from the first moment TKAM introduced her. She is an ugly old lady, incredibly racist. To show you what I mean:
But Mrs. Dubose held us: “Not only a Finch waiting on tables but one in the courthouse lawing for niggers!”
Jem stiffened. Mrs. Dubose’s shot had gone home and she knew it:
“Yes indeed, what has this world come to when a Finch goes against his raising? I’ll tell you!” She put her hand to her mouth. When she drew it away, it trailed a long silver thread of saliva. “Your father’s no better than the niggers and trash he works for!”– Lee 135
Yeesh. See why I hated her so much? I could have torn her right out of the page at this point. And I could not have been happier when Jem reacts to this insult by tearing up all Mrs. Dubose’s camellias. Before this point Atticus had always been kind to Mrs. Dubose, stopping by to talk cordially with her, and waving to her from across the street. I thought that was just because Atticus is that character who’s nice to everyone. But after this insult to himself and his children, I totally thought he’d agree with Scout’s description of Mrs. Dubose as “plain hell” (Lee 7).
But THIS is Atticus’s reaction:
Jem said softly, “She said you lawed for niggers and trash.”
“You did this because she said that?”
Jem’s lips moved, but his, “Yes sir,” was inaudible.
“Son, I have no doubt that you’ve been annoyed by your contemporaries about me lawing for niggers, as you say, but to do something like this to a sick old lady is inexcusable. I strongly advise you to go down and have a talk with Mrs. Dubose,” said Atticus.– Lee 138
I literally could not believe it. I love Atticus – he was immediately my favorite character – but my admiration of him was very nearly lost at this point. I could not believe he was defending Mrs. Dubose, not only after what she said, but after his son was only trying to defend him.
And not only that, but when Jem returns from his apology Atticus sentences him to a month of reading out loud to Mrs. Dubose as she lies in bed in the afternoons. That served to make me even more upset. Little did I know Atticus had a lesson for me as well as for his children.
As the chapter goes on, and Jem and Scout daily visit Mrs. Dubose, she spends much of the reading time insulting their father. And Atticus knows this, yet he continues treating her with kindness. In the end he has a touching conversation with his children, in which he tells them that although Mrs. Dubose was a racist, he believed in her. He believed there was still good in her, and in making his children visit her he wanted them to see that good and believe in it, too. (I won’t go into specifics because this is spoiler free.)
Wow. Let me just say I was absolutely BLOWN AWAY. I had no idea that’s what Atticus wanted Jem and Scout to learn. I thought he was just being a harsh and unforgiving parent. But actually, he was teaching them – and me – that good always triumphs. God holds the power in this world, and he is merciful enough to instill good in even the worst people.
This is one of my favorite themes in TKAM, and one of my favorite parts of Atticus’s character. He always chooses to look for the good in everyone, instead of looking for the evil. That’s the kind of person I want to be. I want to look for God’s good, not the devil’s evil. Because God always leaves a remnant.
Reason #2: Being a Christian is not about works.
I absolutely adore the Christian themes in TKAM. They aren’t preachy, beat-you-over-the-head themes. They’re quietly present (1 Kings 19:12), and they infiltrate the entire novel in a beautiful way.
One of my favorite quotes from TKAM comes when Atticus is explaining to Scout why he must defend Tom Robinson, although the case doesn’t have a chance:
“This case, Tom Robinson’s case, is something that goes to the essence of a man’s conscience – Scout, I couldn’t go to church and worship God if I didn’t try to help that man.”– Lee 139
This one quote affected me profoundly as I continued to read the book. I saw what Atticus was trying to teach his daughter, and how he showed her in his own life: Being a Christian is not about going to church. Or about any kind of works. It’s about doing what you know you have to do if you’re going to continue standing before God in church.
And Atticus’s values didn’t show only to Scout, they showed to the rest of the characters in the book. Scout’s neighbor, Miss Maudie, says this about him:
“We’re the safest folks in the world,” said Miss Maudie. “We’re so rarely called on to be Christians, but when we are, we’ve got men like Atticus to go for us.”
Jem grinned ruefully. “Wish the rest of the country thought that.”
“You’d be surprised how many of us do.”– Lee 288
I also loved Scout’s thoughts on the matter of Christianity, which held truth amazing for a child to realize:
My confidence in pulpit Gospel lessened at the vision of Miss Maudie stewing forever in various Protestant hells. True enough, she had an acid tongue in her head, and she did not go about the neighborhood doing good, as did Miss Stephanie Crawford. But while no one with a grain of sense trusted Miss Stephanie, Jem and I had considerable faith in Miss Maudie. She had never told on us, had never played cat-and-mouse with us, she was not at all interested in our private lives. She was our friend. How so reasonable a creature could live in peril of everlasting torment was incomprehensible.– Lee 59
Scout was absolutely right. “Pulpit Gospel” can often, sadly, be the farthest thing from what the Bible actually teaches.
Reason #3: Racism is described with brutal honesty, yet with tender compassion.
TKAM is a brutally honest book if there ever was a brutally honest book. It describes racism exactly as it is – horrible, ugly, and vile. Yet the heavy subject is also approached with tender compassion.
TKAM’s language is strong and realistic, such as its use of derogative terms for blacks. And that’s horrible. Using such words for someone just because of the color of their skin is a horrible thing. Lee employs them in her writing, not for dramatic effect, but to show us just how wrong they are. And to show us a better way.
Lee called her book a “simple love story.” Here is one of my favorite TKAM quotes that I think really showcased that. This moment never fails to bring a lump into my throat:
“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-“– Lee 99
And that’s just one example of how Lee handles sensitive, heavy themes with compassion. She was right when she described TKAM as a simple love story.
Reason #4: No one should be an outcast.
Another theme in Mockingbird that I LOVE is this one: that no one should ever be an outcast. We should accept and love each other.
One of the best ways Lee showcases this is through Dill Harris, Scout and Jem’s best friend. Dill is considered a low-life by others because he doesn’t have a father, and it’s clear his family doesn’t care about him and passes him from relative to relative. He spends his summers in Maycomb with his Aunt Rachel, whom we see is the only relative who really cares. Dill’s friendship with the Finches is one of the greatest parts of the book, in my point of view. Scout, Jem, and Atticus are his real family.
Another of my favorite parts of Atticus’s character is that he always stands up for the underdog. And that’s not only Tom Robinson. However, this trait doesn’t earn him honor.
The following is one of the parts of the book that breaks my heart the most. It’s when Scout’s cousin Francis gives her the family’s opinion of her father’s inclusiveness. (In regards to Dill and Tom Robinson.) I think it’s just heartwrenching how Francis is so young and already he’s been taught to think like this, to have a prejudiced mind. By relatives who are supposed to be teaching him values. Take a look:
“If Uncle Atticus lets you run around with stray dogs, that’s his own business, like Grandma says, so it ain’t your fault. I guess it ain’t your fault if Uncle Atticus is a nigger-lover besides, but I’m here to tell you it certainly does mortify the rest of the family-“
“Francis, what the hell do you mean?”
“Just what I said. Grandma says it’s bad enough he lets you all run wild, but now he’s turned out a nigger-lover we’ll never be able to walk the streets of Maycomb agin. He’s ruinin’ the family, that’s what he’s doin’.”– Lee 110
Be inclusive, even if it costs you. Even if it means your own family despises your views.
Reason #5: Hate is never justified.
I love how Atticus always teaches Jem and Scout that it’s never justified to hate anyone, no matter how terrible they are. One would think it’s justifiable to hate a really cruel person. But it hasn’t hit many of us hard enough, that God means it when he says we ought not to hate. Just as he doesn’t hate.
I found this moment between Atticus and Scout very profound:
The only time I ever saw Atticus scowl was when Elmer Davis would give us the latest on Hitler. Atticus would snap off the radio and say, “Hmp!” I asked him once why he was impatient with Hitler and Atticus said, “Because he’s a maniac.”
…There was something else wrong – I would ask my father about it….
“But it’s okay to hate Hitler?”
“It is not,” he said. “It’s not okay to hate anybody.”– Lee 329-330
WOW. I think this is possibly Lee’s most powerful statement in TKAM. She teaches us something extremely valuable here, and something that’s extremely hard to follow. It’s absolutely incredible how she uses this theme.
Reason #6: These moments.
Honestly, I was going to give you guys A LOT more reasons to read TKAM, but I want you to discover those amazing reasons for yourselves when you READ it for yourselves! So I’m just going to close with a couple moments from TKAM that I love, and if somehow none of these reasons convinced you to read the book, I pray these moments will. These first two are my favorite Atticus/Scout heart-to-hearts:
“Come here, Scout,” said Atticus. I crawled into his lap and tucked my head under his chin. He put his arms around me and rocked me gently. “It’s different this time,” he said. “This time we aren’t fighting the Yankees, we’re fighting our friends. But remember this, no matter how bitter things get, they’re still our friends and this is still our home.”– Lee 102
“You aren’t really a nigger-lover, then, are you?”
“I certainly am. I do my best to love everybody… I’m hard put, sometimes – baby, it’s never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you.”– Lee 144-145
It’s insanely difficult to choose a favorite moment from Mockingbird, but if I had to, it would be this next one. It comes when Atticus leaves the courtroom after Tom Robinson’s trial. If I haven’t started crying already (and I always have XD), this part is enough to get me straight-up sobbing:
Someone was punching me, but I was reluctant to take my eyes from the people below us, and from the image of Atticus’s lonely walk down the aisle.
“Miss Jean Louise?”
I looked around. They were standing. All around us and in the balcony on the opposite wall, the Negroes were getting to their feet. Reverend Sykes’s voice was as distant as Judge Taylor’s:
“Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’.”– Lee 283
Oh, no four paragraphs have ever banged me in the heart the way those do. No book has a more powerful moment.
Anyways, this is the perfect note to end on. PLEASE comment and tell me you’re going to read TKAM! Nothing would make me happier. Seriously, you guys have no idea how happy I get when someone tells me I’ve convinced them to read it.
And if you’ve read TKAM, it would make me INSANELY happy to hear your thoughts on it! I absolutely love talking about TKAM. I could talk all day about it.
Hope you guys enjoyed this post, and that you’re going to read TKAM! I’ll put the Amazon link HERE so that you don’t have to scroll all the way back up to find it.
You know the drill – eat, pray, write, repeat!