book review: to kill a mockingbird

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee: 18 Books That Changed How We Felt About Ourselves As Women

The unforgettable novel of a childhood in a sleepy Southern town and the crisis of conscience that rocked it, To Kill A Mockingbird became both an instant bestseller and a critical success when it was first published in 1960. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was later made into an Academy Award-winning film, also a classic.

Compassionate, dramatic, and deeply moving, To Kill A Mockingbird takes readers to the roots of human behavior – to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos.

____________________

Confession: At the beginning, I didn’t much care for To Kill A Mockingbird.

See, I thought the entire book was going to be focused around a high-drama court case, and it would be very fast-paced and emotional and dramatic right from the start.  So you can imagine my faint chagrin when I started reading and soon discovered that almost the first third of the book is mainly The Adventures Of Scout & Co.  In fact, it isn’t until chapter nine that really anything is mentioned about the Tom Robinson case, and even after that the case itself doesn’t actually come to trial till over halfway through the book.  As an ardent lover of court dramas, I was very disappointed when much of the book turned out to be what I considered to be rather irrelevant little episodes.

"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."   - Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

But I watched the movie (in which Gregory Peck impressed me greatly) and since the pace is naturally faster, I was able to see a little bit more of how the episodes all tied into one coherent whole.  Then I watched Pork Chop Hill and Twelve O’Clock High, both of which star Gregory Peck, and I got a craving – so to speak – to watch TKAM again.  And, well, I figured that I might as well give the book another try. (oh, and I believe this post had something to do with my determination to re-read the book)

So I did.  And my opinions changed so. much.  TKAM was so much better the second time around, and I think it was because I knew how the whole thing would turn out, all the twists and turns in the plot, so I was able to see the clues and important information that Harper Lee planted in all those ‘irrelevant little episodes’.  Things like how Boo Radley got to know the children and what the Ewells were like and, most importantly, what Atticus was like.  Throughout the whole thing, I was in constant awe of Harper Lee’s writing abilities.  The way she created characters and wove plot lines and her writing style…it’s all amazing stuff. (Though I think that if I read a bunch of books in a row written in her style, it would drive me a little crazy – or, at the very least, I’d be exhausted.  It’s very unique, like Markus Zusak’s prose.)

Best scene of the movie:  "Stand up, Miss Jean Louise.  Your father is passing."

My re-read of TKAM was, I believe, the slowest I’ve ever read a book.  I’d read a chapter, take a break to digest everything in that little chunk, and repeat the process over the next week or so. (taking a week to read one book is very, very slow for me)  For one, I didn’t want the joy of reading a truly excellent book to end.  And for another, the whole thing is so thought-provoking that you really shouldn’t rush through it.  I didn’t read any other books during the week either.  I tried to start The Maze Runner, but compared to TKAM…well, there was no comparison. (I am enjoying it now, though)  Now, I will admit that during The Trial Chapters, my reading pace picked up because the whole thing is very nerve-wracking and high drama, but for the most part, I savoured the book very carefully and slowly.

I adore the characters.  Truth be told, Scout is a brat (at least at the beginning – she does mature some through the course of the book) but, hey, after just watching Wreck-It Ralph, I can’t dislike brats too much. (ugh, the scene where Ralph wrecks the race car gets me every single, stupid time)  I discovered a great liking for Jem this time around.  He reminds me of me at times, which is probably part of why I like him.  Calpurnia, Dill, Heck Tate, Tom Robinson, Judge Taylor, Bob Ewell, Maudie Atkinson (another favorite character)…each person within the pages of TKAM is their own person, fully fleshed and believable, be they good or bad or middling.  Harper Lee doesn’t write any half-characters.  All of them feel just like real people and that’s something I love.

Gregory Peck in one of the greatest movies ever, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD!

No, I haven’t forgotten anyone.  I just wanted to devote an entire paragraph to Atticus, because he deserves it.  Remember what I said a little bit back about how Harper Lee lets you know what Atticus is like in the first several chapters of the book as set-up for the rest of the story.  Well, it’s true.  He isn’t in many scenes at first, but you learn a lot about him from Scout’s asides to the reader and how Jem and Scout and Dill (and the neighbours) talk about him.  You get to know him really well before the trial, but it’s not pounded into you with a sledgehammer.  You learn about him slowly and naturally, which is just the way it should be.  I liked Atticus well enough the first time I read TKAM, I liked him more after watching the film, and now…well, I really, really like him.  There are so many things I could say, and maybe I will say them sometime in an ‘the awesomeness that is…’ post over at Feelsy Feels, but I can’t really do him justice in this relatively short review.  Let me just say that if everyone modeled their behaviour after his, the world would be an infinitely better place. (And yet, he’s not some perfect cardboard character cut-out.  He feels just as real as any other character in the book.)

There were several times where I teared up, or even outright cried, but most of the time all my emotions were bottled up inside because I couldn’t really describe what I was feeling, even to myself.  I was amused (there are several bits that are hilarious), happy, angry, heartbroken, hopeful, despairing, frustrated, and a dozen other things through the course of TKAM.  It’s an emotional roller-coaster if there ever was one, but I don’t regret reading it.

{A Few Favorite Quotes}

“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”

___

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”

___

“I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.”

___

“It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.”

___

“Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’.”

___

“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 conscience.”

___

“Summer, and he watches his children’s heart break. Autumn again and Boo’s children needed him. Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.”

___

“He turned out the light and went into Jem’s room. He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.”

___

“Next morning I awoke, looked out the window and nearly died of fright. My screams brought Atticus from his bathroom half-shaven.
“The world’s endin’, Atticus! Please do something -!” I dragged him to the window and pointed.
“No it’s not,” he said. “It’s snowing.”

I’d better stop before I quote the whole book, because there are so many stunningly amazing snippets of prose throughout the whole thing, but let me just leave you with the quote that’s at the very front of the book.  I love it.  A lot.  There are so many different ways to think about and how it connects to the book and I could go on for quite some time with Deep Thoughts, but I’ll the thing speak for itself and you can draw your own conclusions.  That’s the best way, I think.

Eva

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4 thoughts on “book review: to kill a mockingbird

  1. Very great review of To Kill a Mockingbird. It definitely does make the reader go through a range of emotions. Your review makes me want to pick the book back up for a reread. Well done.

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  3. Pingback: my top ten favorite books of all time | coffee, classics, & craziness

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