Tag Archives: To Kill A Mockingbird

Reading Challenge 2020: Go Set A Watchman – Harper Lee

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Hello Lovelies!

May is gifting us with some glorious sunshine right now so I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you the book I read for the Reading Challenge: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. This book was perfect for the focus of this month: Read a book about hope and growth. Feel free to remind yourself of the different themes for each month here. Harper Lee was an exceptional writer. Like many others, To Kill A Mockingbird was a book I read for GCSE and it has stayed with me ever since. I’ve had the privilege of teaching this too which provides another way of looking at things. I remember when this book came out and the hype and media attention around it. You are probably aware that it was initially promoted as a sequel to TKAM but it is now being seen as a first draft. Regardless, being older now, obviously, I wanted to see whether my opinions changed on the characters and themes being presented. It’s left me thinking I need to read TKAM again really! Let’s see how it goes!

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What’s it all about?

Told through the eyes of Jean Louise Finch, or “Scout” as we also know her, the novel opens with her arrival to her hometown Maycomb, Alabama from New York. This is her annual fortnight long visit to see her father Atticus her Uncle Jay and Aunt Alexandra, the latter replacing Calpurnia’s place following her retirement. We learn that Jem, her brother, died of a heart condition which also killed their mother. Jean Louise is met by her childhood sweetheart, Henry “Hank” Clinton who is working for her father.

“She was almost in love with him. No, that’s impossible, she thought: either you are or you aren’t. Love’s the only thing in this world that is unequivocal. There are different kinds of love, certainly, but it’s a you-do or you-don’t proposition with them all.”

When returning from Finch’s Landing, Jean Louise and Henry are overtaken by a car full of black men, travelling at a frantic speed. This example of dangerous driving leads Hank to tell Jean Louise that many black people now are driving around without insurance and licences. As a result, this leads to Jean Louise reflecting upon this and dealing with the minor scandal that it causes in the community.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) are introduced as sources of great controversy in the community. Whilst at home, Jean Louise finds a leaflet entitled “The Black Plague” among her father’s papers. Naturally outraged, Jean Louise decides to follow her father to a Citizens’ Council meeting. Here, Atticus introduces a man who delivers an incredible racist speech. Horrified from the balcony, Jean Louise listens, outraged. She’s unable to forgive her father for betraying her and flees the hall.

“Every man’s island, Jean Louise, every man’s watchman, is his conscience. There is no such thing as a collective conscious.”

That night, Jean Louise dreams of Calpurnia, her family’s black maid and mother figure to her and Jem for most of their lives. Over breakfast with her father, Jean Louise learns that Calpurnia’s grandson killed a drunk pedestrian the previous night whilst speeding in his car. Atticus agrees to take the legal case to prevent the NAACP from getting involved. It is following this that Jean Louise decides to visit Calpurnia. Whilst retaining their manners, Calpurnia and her family are polite but cold. As a result, Jean Louise leaves utterly devastated.

Deep down this is eating away at Jean Louise. She has to know what her father was doing at that meeting. Uncle Jack tells her that that Atticus hasn’t become a racist but he is trying to slow down federal government interaction into state politics. Following this, Jean Louise receives a lengthy lecture about race, politics and the history of the South. His aim is to get her to reach a conclusion that she struggles to grasp.

Jean Louise then has a flashback to her teenage years and recalls an incident where Atticus plants the seed for an idea in Henry’s brain and left him to come to the right conclusion independently. Jean Louise exclaims that she doesn’t love Henry and won’t ever marry him. She’s incredibly vocal at her disgust at seeing him and her father at that council meeting. In reaction to this, Henry explains that sometimes people have to do things that they just don’t want to. This is a fact of life that we can all relate to!

“Remember this also: it’s always easy to look back and see what we were, yesterday, ten years ago. It is hard to see what we are. If you can master that trick, you’ll get along.”

Henry defends his case by saying that the reason he is part of the Citizens’ Council is because he wants to use his intelligence to make an impact and a difference on Maycomb, the hometown where he wants to make money and raise a family. Jean Louise screams that she could never live with a hypocrite, only to then notice her father standing behind her, smiling.

During a heated discussion with Jean Louise, Atticus argues that the blacks of the South are not ready for full civil rights and the Supreme Court’s decision was unconstitutional and irresponsible. Reluctantly, Jean Louise does agree that the South is not ready to be fully integrated, she believes that the court was pushed into a corner by the NAACP and had to act. Jean Louise is confused and still devastated by her father. He is behaving in a way that is contrasting to how she was brought up and what he has taught her growing up. She returns to the family home and furiously packs her things. Just as she was about to leave, her uncle comes home.

“The only thing I’m afraid of about this country is that its government will someday become so monstrous that the smallest person in it will be trampled underfoot, and then it wouldn’t be worth living in.”

Angrily, she complains to him and he slaps her around the face. He wants her to consider what has happened over the last two days and how she has processed them. Slowly, slowly, she decides that she can stand them. It is bearable because she is absolutely her own person. As a youngster, she fastened her conscience to her father’s, assuming that her answers would be his answers. Atticus wanted to break her idols so she could reduce him to the status of human being – a very difficult lesson to learn and experience.

Jean Louise then goes back to the office and makes a date with Henry. She reflects that Maycomb has taught him things she had never known. She goes to apologise to her father, but he tells her of his pride for her. As a father, he wants her to stand up for what she thinks is right. Jean Louise didn’t want her world disturbed but she tried to crush the man who was trying to preserve it for her. Telling him that she loves him, she silently welcomes him to the human race. For the first time ever, she sees him as literally, just a man. Not an idol.

 “You wouldn’t have listened to him. You couldn’t have listened. Our gods are remote from us, Jean Louise. They must never descend to human level.”

Final Thoughts

This book is exceptional in every sense of the word. I loved seeing an older Jean Louise and to watch the lessons she learns at her age. She is inevitably changed by the big city of New York but her lessons clearly are vital for her home background too. I do naturally want to call her Scout, but we must remember she is an adult here! It’s always jarring when reading about race because it’s naturally a difficult subject to discuss. However, it’s representation here is delicate. I said at the start that I think Harper Lee is an excellent writer! This didn’t disappoint but just remind yourself, this is not To Kill A Mockingbird. I found myself naturally trying to make links and connections which is very natural. I missed Jem, but the links Jean Louise made helped with this. Overall, a great book!

Big Love all xx

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Filed under American Literature, Book review, Literature, Reading, Reading Challenge 2020

To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee

 

The first time I read this book was 10 years ago when I was studying for my GCSEs. I remember having to perform the courtroom scene for a speaking and listening assessment. It feels like yesterday! I can remember how it made me feel. It opened my eyes and my heart. I love this book – I didn’t think I could love it more, but ten years down the line it shows me that there’s more I understand in this book now, thus strengthening my love for it. I genuinely don’t understand why it has been taken off all the exam boards reading lists! 

I’ve told the students in my class about this book, about how it changed me and started something special in my life – the love of reading. Slowly but surely my copy of the text is making its way around school, even to the most unsuspecting of characters who claim they “never read.”

With the highly anticipated ‘Go Set A Watchman’ being published this summer, I wanted to read this again in preparation. (Can not wait for this by the way!)

To Kill A Mockingbird is set in the Deep South of America during the 1930s with the narrator being a little girl, Scout. By having a child narrator we get to learn with her and understand the world as she does. The novel deals with the emotive portrayal of race and prejudice. Filled with morals and the teaching of many life lessons through Atticus, this novel succeeds in portraying a specific time and place as well as how good can triumph over evil. The book teaches that prejudice must be met, fought and overcome no matter how difficult it may be. 

Scout Finch lives with her older brother Jem and her widowed lawyer father Atticus. It’s summertime and Jem and Scout are happily playing (a reoccurring image throughout the book), they make new friends and stumble across Boo Radley. Boo lives in a neighbouring house and yet is never seen. However, there are a number of rumours regarding him (such as a murderer and a child stealer). Atticus always reminds them to see the world through other people’s eyes. “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” Still as true today as it was 55 years ago when this book was written. 

Scout struggles, but perseveres eventually to try and live life using the advice from her father. He is a model father, and uses childlike terms to help Scout understand what her father believes and the sole principle that he has to live his life. 

Then, we meet Tom Robinson, a black man, who has been accused of raping a white woman. Atticus takes on the case of defending him, despite the fact that this causes problems for him and his family in terms of the actions of the community around them. The community, largely white, are incredibly racist and disagree with Atticus. And yet, “I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.” 

The trial takes up the majority of the book and as a reader I went through a range of emotions. I feel saddened that people could do anything like that, that people could dislike someone so much because of their skin colour, or tell lies to show who has the power in the community. I would like to think that today things have changed but this book, 55 years later, still makes me question modern society. 

Atticus proves that Tom is not guilty, and that the woman seduced him. As her father finds out they twist the story as he was outraged that she wanted to try and sleep with a black man. The evidence was overwhelming in support of Tom but the white jury still condemn him to prison. He is later killed as he tries to escape. The woman’s father, furious about being disgraced in court, follows Scout and Jem home one evening and tries to harm them. However Boo, disarms him and kills him dead. 

Boo is revealed for who he really is and boy is he great! Scout learns from Tom and Boo that it is better and more important to see people for who they really are, and now for how others see them. Another reason why this novel is timeless. 

Boo and the mockingbirds are linked. “Remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” “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.” Like the innocent mockingbird, Boo embodies that same trait. He doesn’t harm anyone, he just protects. Yet he has been damaged by his abusive father. The is just one of the clever metaphors that run through the novel. 

This novel is courageous, powerful, evocative, emotional. Atticus is inspirational. We all need someone like that in our lives – someone who believes that gVood will beat evil and that racism is unacceptable. He is the voice of moral consciousness in an age when the novel was written and it represented the hopes and dreams of those who wanted to end racism and segregation. Such a beautiful book. The whole world needs to read this. Now. 

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Filed under American Literature, Book review