September 13, 2011

A Real American Classic

I have been putting this review off, because I'm not sure I can do the book justice. Nothing will compare to reading it and discovering the magic of it yourself. I'll try anyway...

To Kill A Mockingbird
Harper Lee
Literary Fiction/American Classic
To Order: Amazon - Barnes & Noble

As Americans, lessons of Slavery, Segregation, the Great Depression, and the Justice System have been in the curriculum every year (in some form or another) of our education. We learned about slave ships, separate white & black drinking fountains, and Rosa Parks, soup kitchens, southern cotton pickin’, and the civil war; but after all, they were only school lessons. We had drooping eyelids, cramps, and boy problems, we were passing notes, doodling, and making jokes. We knew it had happened, but the people, they weren’t real to us, the places far away (in time and geographically). This is one of the reasons I love literature; it can transport us to other times, into lives and civilities of the past. To Kill A Mockingbird is a great example of this credo.

To Kill A Mockingbird is told through the eyes of a child, Scout Finch. She looks up to her brother, Jem, more than anyone in the world, while her father the lawyer, Atticus Finch, comes in a close second. They live in a close-knit southern community where everyone knows everyone's business. It is a slow, rather passionate time. The novel is a memory of Scout's, revealed to us through a series of summers, until finally wrapping up in a most unexpected way.

Harper Lee created a beautifully layered book. On the one hand, it is a story of the innocence and whimsey of being a child in the summertime: spending every day with the same few pals, believing legends and expanding them into your own run-wild imaginations, ice cold lemonade, and books of adventure. This aspect of the story reminds me so much of my own childhood, growing up with two brothers and a neigborhood full of children our age; very much like Lord of the Flies, we create a mini-society on our own. Nothing can compare to those experiences anywhere for rest of your life, but reading this book awakens those memories so deeply and happily engrained into your being, and lets you accept, and even adore, a juvinille narrator.

As the book progresses, the innocence fades, if only a bit by little bit, and we are introduced to the 'adult' concernes that surround the children. Scout and Jem's father, Atticus (how many people or pets in the world do you think have been named after Atticus Finch? I know two.), is asked to take a legal case that is causing an uproar within the community. He knows, and even explains to his children, that he would simply not be able to live with himself if he did not accept the case. It's a morally and emotionally trying situation for the whole town; everyone feels the overtone of darkness hovering over them, surrounding and suffocating, and it brings out the worst in some. Throughout the duration of the case and trial, the Finch children are awakened to the world of adults, lies, senseless hatred, and justice - and through their eyes, we are able look upon these social and political situations with new eyes, the eyes of the child that still lives within each and every one of us.

Every American must read this book. It is drenched in our history as a nation, and as a people. It is beautiful and painful and bare-bones brutal truth. It's books like these, that have the power to change the world.

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