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To Kill A Mockingbird

Harper Lee

Published 1960


What is it about?

A white lawyer in the American south is called on to defend a black man who is accused of raping a young white girl.   

How long is it?

300+ pages

Is it easy to read?

Yes. The narrator being a six year old girl from the American south makes it clear and easy to read.   

Is it any good? 

Yes. I would say though that it does take a hundred pages or so to get going. The book won Lee the Pulitzer Prize right after its publication and it is considered by many as one of the great American novels.

How will it inspire me?

Despite tackling the main theme of racism in the American south which the book is mostly associated with, it is really about the example that a man sets for his children.

The story is told through the eyes of six-year old Jean Louise Finch or ‘Scout’, a young white girl, and charts three years of her life from 1933-1935 during the great depression. The first part of the book deals with establishing her family, her town Maycomb County, Alabama and the people who inhabit it. The town is poor but is ultimately a good place to live, where people look out for each other. The rest of the book deals with the polarisation that the town undergoes as a result of the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man who has been falsely accused of raping and beating a young white woman Mayella Ewell. Scout’s father Atticus Finch has been called on to defend Tom Robinson and much of the hate and outrage from Maycomb’s citizens is directed at him and his family. The Finch’s who up until this point have been well regarded people are now subject to taunts and threats of violence, as Atticus tells his brother ‘Why reasonable people go stark raving mad when anything involving a negro comes up, is something I don’t pretend to understand[…]’

Atticus however ignores the backlash and is steadfast in his belief that if nothing else Tom Robinson will get a fair trial and he will represent him to the best of his ability. He is resolute in his duty and seeks to embody the lessons that he has imparted to his children.

The fact that the book is not told from Atticus’s perspective but through his daughter’s is a masterstroke as we see how her conception of the world is so heavily informed by her father. Scout constantly finishes her descriptions of how she understands things by saying ‘Atticus says’. She asks him about everything, how the town works, why certain people are the way they are and why she is to behave in a certain way. Atticus’s lessons are always about tolerance, minding one’s business and trying to understand where other people are coming from before judging them.

The positive influence Atticus sets is made clear by the end of the book in the development of Scout’s brother Jem. Jem begins showing signs of the type of man he is going to grow into and how much he resembles his father. As Scout remarks ‘Jem was becoming almost as good as Atticus at making you feel right when everything went wrong.’

Atticus is his children’s compass through life, everything that he has ever taught them is tested by the trial of Tom Robinson, yet he conducts himself with such calm and principled dignity throughout the whole book it’s hard not to be inspired.

Choice lines:

-[Scout] ‘If you shouldn’t be defendin’ him, then why are you doin’ it?’

‘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 country in the legislature. I couldn’t even tell you or Jem not to do something again.’

-It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.

-[Atticus] ‘This case, Tom Robinson’s case, is something that goes to the essence of a man’s conscience – Scout, I couldn’t go to church and worship God if I didn’t help that man.’

[Scout]’Atticus you must be wrong…’

‘How’s that?’

‘Well, most folks seem to think they’re right and you’re wrong…’

‘They’re certainly entitled to think that, and their entitled to full respect for their opinions,’ said Atticus, ‘but 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.’

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