Wednesday 31 July 2013

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I have read To Kill A Mockingbird several times.

Like many people my first reading of TKAM was in highschool, and like many, it was a life changing moment.
It was one of my first 'big' classics. By the time I got to the end of the book I remember thinking, "this is it! When people talk about great literature - this - is - what - they - mean!"

I felt my brain stretch and grow to accommodate this story.
My love of history had already given me a basic understanding of the time and place; Lee's story gave it a face and personality.

It was the first time the written word made me swoon with delight. I loved the dry humour, I loved Scout's voice and I loved the cleverly constructed story.

My last rereading was roughly 15 years ago. The story still felt so fresh in my mind that I was surprised by so much passing time.

I was also a little concerned that I might feel let down with this rereading. My memory had TKAM on such a high pedestal that I wasn't sure if it could live up to it. I needn't have worried.

My next surprise was the beginning.

I thought it started with Jem and Scout meeting Dill for the first time. And that the entire story was written in Scout's young voice.

But, of course, the first few pages are devoted to tracing the Finch family history from some future speaking adult Scout.

And the entire first part is about establishing the setting, the tone and the characters. It doesn't launch straight into the courtroom drama that everyone remembers.

I think this is where some of the clever plot construction comes into play. All the little vignettes Lee describes gradually build up the picture so that we (& Scout to a lesser degree) not only accept, but understand what happens in part two.

We see how the community leaves "best alone" in Boo Radley's case, how Atticus is powerless to help Scout when she starts school (and how the school is powerless to help the likes of the Ewells and the Cunninghams). We see how all the various classes and castes of Maycomb county fit together (or not). We feel the power of the church and the confines of county traditions. We thrill to Atticus' heroic killing of a rabid dog and feel grateful when the community fight together to put out the fire in Miss Maudie's house.

Lee delicately highlights the good and bad of Maycomb county. She gives us a chance to walk around inside the skin of this community.

We are now well prepared for the events of book two.

I've included a few snaps of part one from my gorgeous Folio Edition copy of TKAM.

It is illustrated by Aafke Brouwer. I love the creepy edge that Brouwer has given many of the illustrations, especially the walking dead picture to highlight Jem's early description of Boo Radley.

This post is part of the TKAM readalong hosted by Adam at Roof Beam Reader.


  1. I'm so glad to hear someone appreciated it in high school. I know I read it then, but am ashamed to say I don't remember it from then. However, as an English teacher, I've taught it often, and it's not usually taken well by most kids. While they love the story itself, they don't like the writing. I love this book and you're right, rereading just makes it better! Love the unique illustrations.

  2. I actually never read TKAM. I probably should get on that, huh? Great post!

  3. I wonder whether its more common to read this in an American high school than over here in UK? It was never on any syllabus I came across, more is the pity

    1. I'm in Australia. TKAM has been on the school curriculum here for over thirty years.
      We have a work experience student with us at the moment and she confirmed that many schools here still do TKAM in Year 9 (and she loved it too:-)

  4. What a lovely review! I studied this is high school as well (in the US), and I still love it & re-read it often. I can't really remember studying it, though, just the joy of reading it. I don't know that I've ever considered the two parts of the novel in quite that way, but it makes such sense.

    I usually avoid film adaptations of books I love, but the film of this one I think comes as close as any can to capturing the magic of the story. Gregory Peck's Atticus is a major part of that to my mind.

    1. I agree with you about the movie. Gregory Peck IS Atticus Finch :-)

  5. Anonymous1/8/13

    I must re-read this one soon, although I know it won't fir into August.

    1. I know what you mean Ali. I need to finish TKAM now so I can start on the Austen in August readalong hosted by Roof Beam Reader :-)

  6. Anonymous1/8/13

    I loved reading your review. You put so much "texture" into your remarks, I can just feel the book in my hands again. The name of the illustrator Afke Brouwer caught my eye. That is a Dutch name. I live in The Netherlands and see that AB lives in Groningen not far from where I live. It's a small world@!

    1. Wow!
      That's a great piece of info to go with this post - it's a small world - thank you :-)

      I'm glad you enjoyed my post. I'm finding this reread so rewarding & I'm happy some of this pleasure came through my post to you.

  7. A wonderful review...and yes, Peck is forever Atticus. I hope they never remake that film, they got it perfect this first time.


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