Books + Hot Chocolate

Books + Hot Chocolate

Sunday, 9 March 2014

To Kill A Mockingbird

Title                : To Kill A Mockingbird
Author            :Harper Lee
Genre             : Fiction/ Fantasy 

Another great choice of children storybook that you must have as your collection is To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It is very different as compared to The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (the book I featured in my previous entry) because it has a lot of hidden messages. For The Secret Garden, the storyline is very straightforward and easy to understand because it is all about children’s growing up. On the other hand, To Kill A Mockingbird contains serious issues such as parenting, racism, injustice and sacrifices which requires us to do some serious thinking. I have to admit that I was forced at first to read this book for my literature class, but when I started reading it, it was so good that I instantly fall in love with it. I just couldn’t put my hands down! So, if you are looking for a children storybook which is both inspiring and engaging, this would be a great choice for you. 


Harper Lee Biography: How is it related to the story? 

Nelle Harper Lee was born on April 28, 1926, to Amasa Coleman Lee and Frances Cunningham Finch Lee. She grew up in the small south-western Alabama town of Monroeville. Her father, a former newspaper editor and proprietor, was a lawyer who also served on the state legislature (1926-1938). As a child, Harper was a tomboy and a precocious reader, and she enjoyed the friendship of her schoolmate and neighbour, Truman Capote, who provided the basis of the character of Dill in her novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

Apparently, Harper Lee adapted a lot of her own life experiences into the story. There were too many similarities between the story and her real life. First of all, Harper Lee used her mother's names as characters. For example, her mother's maiden name, “Finch”, was obviously given to the entire Finch family (main characters) whereas her mother's second name, Cunningham, was given to a poor family in the story. Secondly, this story was set in Maycomb County, an imaginary district in southern Alabama. I believe that her idea of describing the setting in the story was adapted from her childhood birthplace, Monroeville. Besides, one of the characters in the story, Atticus Finch had the same occupation as her father – lawyer. Apart from that, I can relate the protagonist, Scout, with Harper because they shared too many similarities; both were tomboys, both love to read and etc. Last but not least, her schoolmate, Truman Capote, was also included in this story as Dill. One thing that mesmerized me when reading a book is when I know that it is based on true story. I always feel that it makes the story sounds more convincing and believable. This is what this story is all about, kind of like a biography of Harper’s life. 

What is this story about? 

The novel To Kill a Mockingbird mainly revolves around Finch’s family (a small family of three), namely Atticus Finch, an attorney and widower, and his two children, Jean Louise "Scout" Finch and Jeremy Atticus "Jem" Finch. There is a lot of events happened in the story which is closely link with the characters. As the novel proceeds, we will laugh and cry together with the characters because the story is so vividly described and it is indeed very engaging for the readers.

The novel is set is the quiet town of Maycomb; but the serenity is only superficial. The town is comprised of three communities: the white folk, the black community, and the ‘white trash’ (people who are failures/ make friend with the blacks). It may seem like there is peace among the three groups, but the society has a combination of hostility, racial prejudices, and friendlessness. Nothing is as it seems, especially in this story.

Jem and Scout go to school together. On their way to school, they pass the Radley house; it is a terrifying place to them, for it houses Boo Radley, a mysterious neighbour who has been labelled a lunatic. At the same time, their curiosity about Boo makes them do a lot of silly things: write a letter, role play as Boo’s family and trespassing his house at night. Their overtures are, however, suppressed by Atticus who wants them to leave him alone.

The main plot of the novel revolves around the trial in which Atticus defends Tom Robinson, a black, who has been accused of having molested a white girl, Mayella Ewell. She is part of the ‘white-trash’ community. During the trial, the Finch received a lot of nasty words from the Maycomb community because they have supported the black. The children follow the case proceedings avidly and are inconsolable when their father loses the case. The case is lost simply because it was still impossible (despite statutory laws protecting them) for a black man to attain victory over a white in the South. Obviously, Atticus should have won this case. But as soon as Tom steps in the court, he has no chances of winning. Racial prejudices are still prevalent among the white society. The process of the trial is one of the interesting highlight in this story. The way Harper wrote this story can make you feel devastated and sad. It makes you realised about the reality which happens around us.

In the end, Harper reveals the true identity of Boo Radley. It is very intriguing to know that he is not like what people say he is. That is the power of community; they can condemn you when you are different just because they regard themselves as almighty. Both Boo and Tom are the mockingbirds. They did nothing to harm others, but we, the society, have the habit to trouble their life. The child’s growing up and the fight against the “old tradition” is what makes this novel worth to be read.  

My perspective: What makes it interesting?

To Kill A Mockingbird is full of suspense and unexpected plot. To make your reading easier, I will highlight some plus points from this novel. 

1.     Jem’s injury 
  • What is the reason? This sentence has triggered my curiosity to continue my reading because I want to know what has caused his injury. 

“When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow…His left arm was somewhat shorter than his right; when he stood or walked, the back of his hand was at right angles to his body, his thumb is parallel to his thigh.” 

2.     Boo Radley (the mysterious neighbour)
  • Who is he? Why is he hiding in his own home? Why he never socialize? Is he a psychopath? These are the questions which will “pop” into your mind as you read this novel. 

“People said he existed, but Jem and I had never seen him. People said he went out at night when the moon was down, and peeped in windows.” 

“Mrs. Radley ran screaming into the street that Arthur (Boo) was killing them all, but when the sheriff arrived he found Boo still sitting in the living room, cutting up the Tribune. He was thirty- three years old then.” 

3.     Racial discrimination
  • The trial of Tom Robinson. The way she wrote the story is amazing and I feel so anxious to know what will happen to Tom. Harper has been criticized by the critique because she is white, and yet she wrote a story about injustice and discrimination. But, her aspiration of making the world aware of their action is definitely priceless. We need someone like her to make this world a better place. 

“Old Mr. Bob Ewell accused him of rapin’ his girl an’ had him arrested an’ put in jail – ”

“The state has not produced one iota of medical evidence that the crime Tom Robinson is charged with ever took place. It has relied instead upon the testimony of two witnesses whose evidence has not only been called into serious question on cross-examination, but has been flatly contradicted by the defendant. The defendant is not guilty, but somebody in this courtroom is.”

4.     The perfect father – Atticus Finch
  • Neither of the Finch kids ever calls their father “Dad”; he's always Atticus. Weird, right? Especially for kids in the rural South. But we get the feeling that it's their way of showing him respect, just like he shows them respect. For one thing, he doesn't dumb down his language to what he thinks is their level, but he also is willing to explain patiently whenever they have questions. His character as a father is so dreamlike because he is a perfect father for Scout and Jem. The way he portrays himself in the story can make everyone “fall for him”. Even myself is enticed by his charms. Moreover, unlike other citizens in Maycomb, he represents morality and great mind in To Kill a Mockingbird because he is willing to stand up for justice and truth. He is truly amazing. Below are some of his amazing quotes:

“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.”

You just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don't you let 'em get your goat. Try fightin' with your head for a change.”

  • When Scout questioned him why he has to help Tom Robinson, he answered to her like an adult because he believes that honestly is the greatest way to make a child understand.  

“For a number of reasons," said Atticus. "The main one is, if I didn't I couldn't hold up my head in town, I couldn't represent this county in the legislature, I couldn't even tell you or Jem not to do something again. […] Scout, simply by the nature of the work, every lawyer gets at least one case in his lifetime that affects him personally. This one's mine, I guess.” 

5.     Why this book is entitled as “To Kill A Mockingbird” ?

  • This is one of the key metaphors of the book: the idea of “mockingbirds” is to describe good and innocent people who are destroyed by evil. The Finch, Tom Robinson and Boo Radley are the mockingbirds in this novel. As you read through it, you will come to understand. 

“Remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. “Your father’s right,” she said. “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.”

Why To Kill A Mockingbird is a masterpiece? 
Lee published her first and only novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, in 1960. The novel was highly popular, selling more than fifteen million copies. Among the achievements it received are: 

1.     Pulitzer Prize (1961)
2.     Brotherhood Award of the National Conference of Christians and Jews (1961)
3.     Alabama Library Association Award (1961)
4.     Bestsellers Paperback of the Year Award (1962)
5.  Additional designations such as a Literary Guild selection, a Reader's Digest condensed book selection, and an alternate for the Book of the Month Club.

  Lee received Alabama Humanities Award from the Alabama Humanities Foundation (2002) 


What the public have to say about this book? 

1.     “Marvellous … Miss Lee’s original characters are people to cherish in this winning first novel.” – The New York Times

2.     “A novel of great sweetness, humour, compassion and of mystery carefully sustained.” – Harper’s Magazine

3.     “Has pace and power … overflowing with life.” – Boston Herald

4.     “Skilled, unpretentious and totally ingenious … tough, melodramatic, acute, funny” – The New Worker

5.     “Memorable…vivid…a gentle, persuasive humour and a glowing goodness.” – Los Angeles Times

6.     “Remarkable triumphs… Miss Le writes with a wry compassion that makes her novel soar.” – Life Magazine 

The film version of To Kill a Mockingbird, released in 1962, underscored the success of the novel with its own success. Adapted by screenwriter Horton Foote and directed by Robert Mulligan, the film stars Gregory Peck as Atticus, Mary Badham and Phillip Alford as Scout and Jem; both Peck and Foote took home Academy Awards for their work. I will give the links for both the movie and the audiobook. I hope you will enjoy this story. So, here are the links. Until next time, adios! 

To Kill A Mockingbird: Movie link

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