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"Lawyers Were Children Once Too": To Kill a Mockingbird,
This review is from: To Kill a Mockingbird (Mass Market Paperback)
Oddly, I'd never read To Kill a Mockingbird as a high school student. Nor had I ever seen the famous film with Gregory Peck. Fortunately, I also avoided learning the entire plot through cultural osmosis. Sure, I knew who Boo Radley was-- didn't I? Atticus Finch... yeah, I know who that is... right?
Boy, was I wrong. Last week I finally decided it'd been long enough, and I sank into Harper Lee's only novel with high expectations. And I was certainly not disappointed. With its slow, warm and evocative opening chapters, Mockingbird starts off like a sulty summer day in the South. Lee depicts a South of "whistling bob white," biscuits and warm milk, and ladies who on the hottest days bathe twice by noon and then douse themselves in lavender-smelling powder.
Jean-Louise Finch, better known as Scout, narrates the story with the keen eye of an adult looking back on a childhood rich with incidents that shaped who she has become. Scout reminded me of some of Carson McCullers's heroines (Member of the Wedding, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter), but without the morbid loneliness and heartbreak. Scout might be described as a tomboy, but that would be doing her a disservice. Her adventures with her older brother Jem, and their dimunitive friend Dill (real name: Charles Baker Harris. "Your name's longer'n you are," Jem points out) evoke the timeless place of childhood.
As for Atticus Finch, what can one say about a father who seems to embody the greatest of virtues? He is tolerant, patient, kind, and understanding. He does not meddle with his children's affairs, he speaks to them as fellow adults (he allows them to call him "Atticus"), and his skill as a lawyer is legendary. Lee presents Atticus in a tough and sensitive manner, so that his believability is paramount.
The other characters in the book are also depicted with great skill: Aunt Alexandra, bane of Scout's existence; Miss Maudie, who gives as good as she gets when harassed by intolerant neighbors; Calpurnia, the ever-present black maid who has as much a hand in Jem and Scout's well-being as Atticus; and of course the Ewells, whose poverty and ignorance help set the plot in motion.
Harper Lee has written a wonderful book that pulses with life, with compassion, and easy good humor. Watching Atticus face down an angry mob set on lynching a black man, or racing with Jem as he escapes gunshots from the Radley house, or sitting with Scout as she forced to join her aunt's church lady reception, or taking that long midnight walk with Jem and Scout, is pure joy; these are scenes that reverberate in the reader's mind and surely in the minds of several generations of readers. I'm glad I can now say I'm one of them.