To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favourite books of all time, and this was my fourth (or maybe fifth?) time reading it. There is nothing like re-reading you favourite books, and every time I read this one I love it even more. Set in the Deep South of America in the 1930s, the novel is a coming-of-age story told from the point of view of six year old Scout Finch as her lawyer father defends a black man with the rape of a white girl. Not only is this a rich, wonderfully written and exuberantly funny story, it also carries extremely important themes and messages that are still relevant today, including most primarily that of anti-racism.
First and foremost, this is a wonderful, page-turning story. Told through the eyes of young Scout we experience childhood again, as she plays with her ten year old brother Jem and their friend Charles Baker-Harris, attends school for the first time, and learns from and is reprimanded by her single father, Atticus, and their black maid, Calpurnia. The scenes of innocent childhood play are some of my favourite to read, and indeed the most hilarious. Scout and Jem’s sibling relationship is also a particular highlight; there are conversations and arguments they have that I found completely relatable, and the way they always look out for each other and see each other develop and grow is extremely touching.
This novel is full of moral lessons also however, and is a scathing indictment of the prejudices held in the Deep South at that time. The two most obvious story-lines – that of Attitus defending the innocent black man, Tom Robinson, and that of Boo Radley, a mystery of a man who never leaves his home and who the children have heard terrifying stories about – explore themes of racism and class, perfectly portraying the small town’s irrational and dangerous views. This irrationality is further made more blatant as we see the world through the innocent eyes of young Scout. There are less explicit themes running throughout, however, such as the gender stereotypes forced upon Scout as a young girl that she tries to resist, and every time I read the novel I notice even more subtleties. Every chapter is perfect, with exactly the right amount said, and as I reread it this time I was stunned by how articulately Harper Lee could say so much.
My favourite character, and indeed one of my favourite characters ever written, is the children’s father, Atticus Finch. His is vastly caring, moral and also flawed man, who is constantly trying his best in bringing up his two children at the same time as trying to do what he thinks is right for his community. I love the way he interacts with Scout and Jem, recognising that they are bright and perceptive and should be talked to and taught as such. The novel also has a vast range of other characters, all of which are well-developed and interesting. Miss Maudie is one of the Finch’s witty and compassionate neighbours, and Calpurnia the maid is stern, lovable and insightful. Even Aunt Alexandra, Atticus’ sectarian and obstinate sister, is fully dimensional and we are allowed to empathise with her.
Every time I read this novel I am overwhelmed by how intricate, important and emotionally touching it is. Not only is Harper Lee a brilliant, powerful storyteller, with an engaging plot and one of the best casts of fully-fleshed out, interesting characters there are, she also explores so many indispensable and timeless themes. If I were to recommend everyone one book to read in their lifetime, this would be it.