To Kill A Mocking Bird

To Kill A Mockingbird

By Harper Lee

William Heinemann – £18.99

Like most towns steeped in prejudice and hypocrisy, it’s always the innocent and the vulnerable, the slightly different and the ostracised that invariably get trodden on, denounced, and in some instances, killed. For such is the power to shun and ultimately blame. I witnessed it in my own hometown of Swindon (in England), which, amid the decrepit desire for pathetic, swooning city status, is, in truth, no different to that of the small town described in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird.

A book, which surely reverberates with just as much power and social foresight today, as it did upon release fifty years ago; it basically tells the story of an elderly gentleman by the name of Atticus Finch, who, in defending the real mocking bird of a small town in America’s Deep South – a black man no less – teaches his two children the sublime value of tolerance, morality and understanding:

‘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 they’re 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.’

Through the eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, the author investigates the disgusting issues of class and race, which were still so horribly prevalent throughout much of the United States during the 1930s. But although the subject is a tough one, and remains so to the present day, Harper writes with just as much communitarian compassion as she does geographic authenticity and humour; thus lending the book a certain lightness of touch by way of diversionary childlike wonderment:

‘’Mr. Avery sat on the porch every night until nine o’clock and sneezed,’’ ‘’There was a smell of stale whisky and pig-pen about.’’

Lines such as these are scattered throughout this humbling and seemingly contagious book, so much so that one finds oneself transported to another time and another place; not only the Deep South of the 1930s, but also the smells, sounds and imagery of one’s own childhood.

To Kill A Mockingbird therefore, is so much more than just a book. It’s an introspective testament of the trials and tribulations of the plurality of human nature. Be it greed. Be it racism. Be it kindness. Be it redemption. It’s all here, in this fiftieth anniversary edition, of one of the most compelling and honest of novels ever written.

David Marx


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