Tuesday, August 9, 2011

"To Kill A Mockingbird" by Harper Lee

Published: 1960
Read: 2011
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 5
Review: Goodreads
Lists: Pultizer Prize (1961); 1,001 books

Harper Lee’s first and only novel published in 1960 was an immediate success, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and made into a movie with Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in 1962 (in my Netflix queue). 

The story is told in the first person by an older Scout, looking back on her life growing up in Maycomb, Alabama with her father whom she calls Atticus, her older brother, Jem and their cook, Calpurnia.  Her mother died when she was young.  She is a likable protagonist, a tomboy with spirit, gumption and a lively imagination.  The most excitement in their idyllic, sheltered life comes from trying to draw out the reclusive and mysterious Boo Radley until Atticus takes on a case which polarizes the community and brings racial tension straight into Jem and Scout’s world.  In short. Atticus is asked to defend Tom Robinson, an innocent black man accused of raping a “white trash” young woman.  There are no witnesses, it is her word against his.

While I have wanted to read this book after finishing other books about adolescents such as Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and J.D Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, it went to the top of my TBR list after seeing her name in the dedication page of another recently read book, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.  In fact, To Kill a Mockingbird is somewhat autobiographical as Lee grew up in the Deep South, loved to read (like Scout), her father was a lawyer (like Atticus) and one character, Dill was modeled after Capote.

Moral lessons abound within this quick read:

Atticus to Scout – on trying to teach her how to get along with people she may not agree with or understand:  
You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.

Miss Maudie (neighbor) to Scout about Atticus: 
"Atticus Finch is the same person in his house as he is in public" and "People in their right minds never take pride in their talents."
Atticus to Scout on why he took the Robinson case: 
"This case, Tom Robinson’s case, is something that goes to the essence of a man’s conscious.  I couldn’t go to church and worship God if I didn’t try to help that man" and "before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself.  The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscious."
Jem and Scout had watched the trial and with the black/white and right/wrong idealism of youth, he was angry at the verdict. Atticus' explanation to Jem:
The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow, but people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box.  As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it.  Whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.
When Jem and Scout are talking about classes in Southern society: 
J – I’ve thought about it a lot lately and I’ve got it figured out.  There’s four kinds of folks in the world.  There’s the ordinary kind like us and the neighbors, there’s the kind like the Cunninghams out in the woods, the kind like the Ewells down at the dump and the Negroes. 
S - Naw, Jem, I think ther's just one kind of folks.  Folks.
J - That's what I thought too when I was your age.  If there's one kind of folks, why can't they get along with each other?  If they're all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other?
Notable passages

For some reason, I love this sentence (about Aunt Alexandra's husband):
She married a taciturn man who spent most of his time lying in a hammock by the river wondering if his trout lines were full.
About Dill:
Thus we came to know Dill as a pocket Merlin, whose head teemed with eccentric plans, strange longings, and quaint fancies.
Great description of Maycomb (long but I couldn't pare down - all good):
Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it.  In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square.  Somehow, it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer's day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square.  Men's stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning.  Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o'clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.
People moved slowly then.  They ambled across the square, shuffled in and out of the stores around it, took their time about everything.  A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer.  There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaires of Maycomb County.
On Scout's second cousin:
Talking to Francis gave me the sensation of settling slowly to the bottom of the ocean.  He was the most boring child I ever met.
When Jem and Scout visited Calpurnia's church:
The warm bittersweet smell of clean Negro welcomed us as we entered the church yard - Hearts of Love hairdressing mingled with asafoetida, snuff, Hoyt's Cologne, Brown's Mule, peppermint, and lilac talcum.
On why Aunt Alexandra was so irritable on the Lord's Day:
I guess it was her Sunday corset.  She was not fat, but solid, and she chose protective garments that drew up her bosom to giddy heights, pinched in her waist, flared out her rear, and managed to suggest that Aunt Alexandra's was once an hour-glass figure.  From any angle, it was formidable.
On being a Southern woman:
Why ladies hooked woolen rugs on boiling nights never became clear to me.
I must soon enter this world, where on its surface fragrant ladies rocked slowly, fanned gently and drank cool water.

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