Book Review: To Kill a Mockingbird


Harper Lee in the balcony of the old courthouse in Monroeville, Alabama, May, 1961

Harper Lee in the balcony of the old courthouse in Monroeville, Alabama, May, 1961

I think there’s just one kind of folks.
Folks.
– Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird was written and edited after Harper Lee wrote Go Set a Watchman.  Ms. Lee’s publisher asked her to rewrite Watchman from a child’s perspective.  Two years later in 1960, the book was published with the Mockingbird title.  No edits were made the the Watchman manuscript  before it was published this week.  I intentionally read the books in the order they were written to discern Ms. Lee’s literary intent versus the changes she was encouraged to make by her editor and publisher.

Mockingbird Watchman

Several scenes from Watchman appeared in Mockingbird almost verbatim.   I was poignantly aware how adroitly Scout had projected her conscience and color blind perspective onto her father Atticus while putting the reader on notice early that he wasn’t thrilled about being called upon to represent Tom Robinson in a rape trial:

I’d hoped to get through life without a case of this kind, but John Taylor [the local judge] pointed at me and said, “You’re It.”

. . .many years later I realized he wanted me to hear every word he said.

Scout and Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird

Scout and Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird

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.
– Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Atticus was deeply committed to building a solid foundation for his children and seized every opportunity to build their character and hone their sense of integrity and empathy:

If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks.  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.

Before the trial of Mr. Robinson, a mob came to the jail.  Scout implemented her father’s wisdom to diffuse the volatility.

Mockingbird PeckScout

It took an eight-year-old child to bring ’em
to their senses. . .
you children last night made Walter Cunningham
stand in my shoes for a minute.
That was enough.
– Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Scout was obsessed with discerning which local citizens were racists and was vigilant in her quest to ferret out hypocrisy:

Miss Gates. . .hates Hitler. . .not right to persecute anybody.

. . .coming out of the courthouse. . .talking with Miss Stephanie Crawford.  I heard her say it’s time somebody taught ’em a lesson, they were gettin’ way above themselves, an’ the next thing they think they can do is marry us.  Jem, how can you hate Hitler so bad an’ turn around and be ugly about folks right at home ~

Jem, Scout, and Dill watching the trial of Tom Robinson from the gallery in To Kill a Mockingbird

Jem, Scout, and Dill watching the trial of Tom Robinson from the gallery in To Kill a Mockingbird

One way in this country in which
all men are created equal. . .
is a court.
– Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Ms. Lee studied law before going to Oxford and shrewdly revealed our “justice” system’s flaw in Atticus’ closing argument:

A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up.

Atticus and Tom Robinson during the trial in To Kill a Mockingbird

Atticus and Tom Robinson during the trial in To Kill a Mockingbird

Miss Jean Louise, stand up.
Your father’s passin’.
– Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

In Watchman, Jean Louise recalls Mr. Robinson’s acquittal.  He was found guilty in Mockingbird.  I think this exchange between Jem and Atticus expresses Ms. Lee’s displeasure with her editor:

It ain’t right, Atticus. . .No son, it’s not right.

I was similarly intrigued by the bounty of food Atticus received to thank him for his passive-aggressive, lukewarm representation of Mr. Robinson as well as his acknowledgement that he probably didn’t deserve it:

Tell them I’m very grateful. . .they must never do this again.  Times are too hard. . .

Jem and Dill hurling Scout into Boo Radley's yard in To Kill a Mockingbird

Jem and Dill hurling Scout into Boo Radley’s yard in To Kill a Mockingbird

[Dill] had asked me earlier in the summer to marry him,
then he promptly forgot. . .
I was the only girl he would ever love,
then he neglected me.
– Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

The dynamic between Scout and Dill [Charles Baker Harris] spiked the narrative and gave frequent comic relief.  The characters were based on Ms. Lee’s friendship with Truman Capote.  Dill received a brief mention in Watchman, and I wonder how intently the editor of Mockingbird urged Ms. Lee to reveal details of the famous author’s private life:

. . .he just gets passed around from relative to relative. . .

Atticus shooting a rabid dog in To Kill a Mockingbird

Atticus shooting a rabid dog in To Kill a Mockingbird

He told me havin’ a gun around’s
an invitation to somebody to shoot you.
– Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Scout was stunned to discover that her father was an excellent marksman.  The book’s title springs from an admonishment he gave his children when they received air rifles for Christmas.  I hope everyone who owns a gun will take a moment to ponder Atticus’ wisdom.

Related Post:

Book Review:  Go Set a Watchman, 7/15/15

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s