Wednesday, October 5, 2011

To Kill A Mockingbird -- Harper Lee

“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy . . . but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

This book doesn’t need any introduction at all. If you are a voracious reader you must have read this book already. Those who haven’t read, you may have at least heard about it. If you haven’t even heard about it, it may be safe to tell you to jump off a cliff! Listed in ‘100 books to read before you die’, still in publication after decades of its first copy, you just can't miss this. You might think it’s hyped. Well I thought the same which was why I never picked it up till recently. Take my word, I cursed myself for not picking it up since so long.

One word was commonly used when asked by readers to describe the book. INNOCENT. I never understood how a book can be innocent of all the things!! It can be mesmerizing, captivating, enchanting, even out of the world, BUT innocent!! Well, yea even I’m guilty of using the same word here. The book was the most innocent one I’ve ever read. Enter the world of an 8 year old daughter, sister and girlfriend (:P) , you'll get a book in which innocence is gigantically personified.

The plot is set in Maycomb, Alabama during the Depression Era. Our narrator, Scout stays with her elder brother Jem and father Atticus Finch. Atticus was a well respected lawyer and a single father who was a little laid back yet responsible when it came to raising his kids. This gave many people the perfect reason to blame him for his daughter’s lack of mannerisms that a girl is expected to possess. The relation between Scout and Jem was like any regular brother-sister. They fought, played, grew apart as they grew up but nonetheless, shared a strong bond. The story starts with a description of the siblings’ regular summer vacations. Though one vacation seemed like every other summer, it taught them invaluable life lessons. An unusual case had landed in their father’s lap where he had to defend a black who was accused of raping a white girl. It was a time when the ‘blacks’ were considered to be of a lower strata, that even talking to them was considered unethical. When one of them was accused of rape, the ‘white’ society wanted nothing less than death for him. Atticus didn’t let the society alter his morals, values, opinions and responsibilities. He did what was right and taught Scout and Jem to always do the same, no matter what.  The various incidents of that summer, the rape case and its outcome left a huge,deep effect on the Finch siblings.

A lot has changed since the Depression era. And a lot hasn’t, esp. when it comes to people, society.
Everybody still has that nosy, irritating or fascinating neighbour/relative; a person whom one can totally look upto or depend upon; and then there the infamous and unreasonable society norms and prejudices.  An ‘Atticus Finch’ would be a hard to find in today’s world though. But he’ll never cease to be an exemplary man. He trod very smartly between the thin line of being a lenient, carefree father and a responsible father teaching about various life lessons. He taught his children how to live their lives, how to stand up for what’s right and what they believe in, appreciated their efforts, respected their opinions and thinking and supported them in every way he could. He taught them that it was alright to make mistakes and that everyone makes them, and that sometimes everyone has to do things that they don’t really like doing. In spite of the blaring racial discrimination, Atticus’s household help was a ‘black’, whom he trusted and depended upon a lot. Due to this, the racial and class discrimination was an unknown area for the kids. He provided a perfect, ideal environment for his kids to grow up. He was a living example for them on how to be a good and fair person.

The summer’s episode forced them to step out of their comfort zone and they had to open their eyes to a whole new world. A world where grey existed, where racial discrimination was prevalent; where evil/bad coexisted undeniably with the good; where the society dictated some norms no matter how wrong they seemed;  and there were some things that just couldn’t be changed, irrespective of how unfair it seemed and one had to live with all that. Everyone learns this lesson sometime or the other and Harper Lee did a commendable feat by writing about this very subtly. It doesn’t sound preachy, and doesn’t make it a heavy read. The readers learn something with the siblings, Atticus and other characters of the book.

The title of the book has a lot of significance too. Although, there’s no mention of a real mockingbird throughout, the readers should understand the profundity of this symbolism. Mockingbird can be interpreted as innocence, or a quality of a person. In the story, the innocence of the children was killed due to various events. Mockingbird can be seen to be synonymous with certain characters in the story. Atticus was a mockingbird as he was brought down by everyone as he was fighting and standing up for a ‘wrong’ case; the accused Tim Robinson was a mockingbird for obvious reasons; Boo Radley was also a mockingbird who lived a dead man’s life for the most part due to certain events that marked his life. Like quoted in the book, it is a sin to kill a mockingbird as all it does is sing and make everyone happy. It’s portrayed in the book that people mercilessly kill various ‘mockingbirds’, in spite of being aware of that fact.

Harper Lee has produced a book that transcends different generations and still creates the same effect on readers of different age groups, of different generations. This book will, undoubtedly, remain immortal. If you haven’t read it yet, now is the right time to pick it up. And if you have already read it, maybe it’s time for you to re-read it.

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