To Kill a Mockingbird Mass Market Paperback – October 11, 1988
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Set in the small Southern town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the Depression, To Kill a Mockingbird follows three years in the life of 8-year-old Scout Finch, her brother, Jem, and their father, Atticus--three years punctuated by the arrest and eventual trial of a young black man accused of raping a white woman. Though her story explores big themes, Harper Lee chooses to tell it through the eyes of a child. The result is a tough and tender novel of race, class, justice, and the pain of growing up.
Like the slow-moving occupants of her fictional town, Lee takes her time getting to the heart of her tale; we first meet the Finches the summer before Scout's first year at school. She, her brother, and Dill Harris, a boy who spends the summers with his aunt in Maycomb, while away the hours reenacting scenes from Dracula and plotting ways to get a peek at the town bogeyman, Boo Radley. At first the circumstances surrounding the alleged rape of Mayella Ewell, the daughter of a drunk and violent white farmer, barely penetrate the children's consciousness. Then Atticus is called on to defend the accused, Tom Robinson, and soon Scout and Jem find themselves caught up in events beyond their understanding. During the trial, the town exhibits its ugly side, but Lee offers plenty of counterbalance as well--in the struggle of an elderly woman to overcome her morphine habit before she dies; in the heroism of Atticus Finch, standing up for what he knows is right; and finally in Scout's hard-won understanding that most people are essentially kind "when you really see them." By turns funny, wise, and heartbreaking, To Kill a Mockingbird is one classic that continues to speak to new generations, and deserves to be reread often. --Alix Wilber
"A novel of great sweetness, humor, compassion, and of mystery carefully sustained."―Harper's Magazine
"Skilled, unpretentious and tototally ingenuous . . . tough, melodramatic, acute, funny."―The New Yorker
"Miss Lee wonderfully builds the tranquil atmosphere of her Southern town, and as adroitly causes it to erupt a shocking lava of emotions."―San Francisco Examiner
"Remarkable triumph . . . Miss Lee writes with a wry compassion that makes her novel soar."―Life magazine
- Publisher : Grand Central Publishing (October 11, 1988)
- Language : English
- Mass Market Paperback : 384 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0446310786
- ISBN-13 : 978-0446310789
- Lexile measure : 870L
- Item Weight : 6.4 ounces
- Dimensions : 6.69 x 4.13 x 0.98 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #24,226 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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I always struggle writing an actual review for a classic novel because it’s usually been reviewed and analyzed to death. I’m going to tell you my thoughts anyway! Like I said, To Kill a Mockingbird is written from the first person point of view of Scout Finch, who is around six years old when the story begins. She lives in Maycomb, Alabama with her father Atticus and her brother Jem. Atticus is a lawyer and is the most respected man in town. When Tom Robinson, a black man, is falsely accused of raping a white woman, the town’s judge appoints Atticus to defend him. The chances that Tom will be acquitted are slimmer than slim but as Atticus says, real courage is, “when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.” That’s why the judge appointed him. He knew that Atticus was the only lawyer who would give his all to defending Tom even though it was a lost cause. Meanwhile, Scout, Jem and their friend Dill are obsessed with the Finch’s mysterious neighbor, Boo Radley. They delight in daring each other to get close to the Radley house.
To Kill a Mockingbird is full of life lessons. Atticus is pretty much the perfect human and the wisdom he imparts to Scout and Jem is profound. I liked how Harper Lee took her time building up to the actual trial. She shows us years of life in Maycomb so that the reader can truly understand the South in the 1930s. There is a rich cast of supporting characters, all vividly drawn. It’s tragic to realize that not all that much has changed in how our country treats black people since the time of this book. Black people are still treated unfairly by the criminal justice system quite often, resulting in America’s huge mass incarceration problem.
I’m so glad I reread To Kill a Mockingbird. I had forgotten just how much I loved it. There is so much about it that is timeless and Atticus’s lessons still resonate today. If by chance you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend that you do.
Scout gets some valuable life lessons from her father. She sees that doing the moral thing, is not always an easy, or popular, or safe thing to do. But it's the <i>right</i> thing to do. She also learns that everybody deserves to be treated with dignity and to receive justice, no matter what their skin color.
I first read TKAM in high school 50 years ago. I re-read it, as I'm sure many others have, in preparation for reading the recently published "To Set a Watchman". I was touched deeply by this story in 1967. And I'm touched just as deeply in 2017. Harper Lee made us stare prejudice and injustice in the face, and made us want to aspire to be an Atticus Finch. A flag-waving 5 stars!
By Lilac Roe Pin on April 4, 2018
Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird is an undisputed classic that few will avoid having read in their lifetime, and those few are to be pitied. As I habe presentation of the novel coming up this weekend, a discussion group that I am lucky enough to be allowed to lead as part of the The Big Read here in Holland, Michigan, I felt it necessary to revisit this timeless classic (and I figured I’d review it to help collect my thoughts on the subject). The experience was like returning to a childhood home and finding it warm and welcoming and undisturbed from the passage of time, like walking the streets of my old neighborhood and hearing the calls of friends as they rode out with their bikes to greet me, of knowing the mailman by name and knowing where all the best places for hide-and-seek were, the best trees to climb, and feeling safe and secure in a place that is forever a part of yourself. Though some of the mechanics of the novel seemed less astonishing than my first visit more than a decade ago, the power and glory was still there, and I found a renewed love and respect for characters like Atticus, whom I’ve always kept close to heart when wrestling with my own position as a father. Harper Lee created a wonderful work that incorporated a wide range of potent themes, wrapping class systems, gender roles, Southern manners and taboos, and an important moral message of kindness, love and conviction all within a whimsical bildungsroman that no reader who has been graced by its pages will ever forget.
‘The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience.’
Before dipping into the novel itself, I’d like to take a moment to speak about Atticus Finch, one of my favorite characters in all of Literature. Atticus is a pillar of morality, a man of honor, integrity, and most importantly, conviction. He is humble and honest, even admitting to his children that yes, indeed they are poor. In a novel about society, with its tumultuous mess of morals and class, Atticus is like an authorial deus ex machina, being Lee’s method of inserting moralizing and an example of what constitutes a ‘good man’ into the book through character and not authorial asides. I’ve always idolized Atticus and tried to think ‘what would Atticus do?’ when it come to being a father and undertaking difficult moral conundrums (I even named my second cat Catticus Finch). Atticus takes the unpopular position of defending a black man in a rape case when assigned to him despite the town nearly ostracizing him. Atticus does his duty, and does it well, as a man of conviction that believes in doing what is right and honorable regardless of the consequences, living up to his statement that ‘Real courage is when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what’. In fact, Lee originally intended to name the novel Atticus before deciding it would stifle the broad perspective of Macomb by drawing too much attention to one character. Atticus remains steadfast throughout the novel, sure of himself and fully developed, whereas those around him undergo more a sense of change and development. This is a novel about personal growth and a broader understanding of those around you, and Atticus is the anchor to integrity and morality keeping his children centered in the violent storm of emotions and violence that befalls Macomb.
‘When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness sake. But don't make a production of it. Children are children, but they can spot an evasion faster than adults, and evasion simply muddles 'em.’
There is a childlike innocence spun through a novel of such weight and seriousness, executed brilliantly by Lee’s choice of Scout as the narrator. We are forever seeing a larger world through the eyes of a young girl still trying to find her place in it while making sense of all the hustle and bustle around her, and this creates an incredible ironic effect where there are large events going on that the reader understands but are delivered nearly through defamiliarization because the narrator cannot fully grasp them¹. The narration allows Lee to balance the coming-of-age hallmarks with the weightier themes, allowing the reader to maintain an innocence from the rape and racism while still able to make sense of the society functioning at large, and retreating from the darker themes into the fun of the children’s comings and goings. What is most impressive is how everything blends together, and the lessons learned in each aspect of their life are applied to all the other elements they come in contact with. The fates of Tom and Boo Radley are emotionally and morally linked in the readers mind, heart and soul.
All the standard bildungsroman motifs that make people love the genre are present in To Kill a Mockingbird, from schoolyard quarrels, to learning your place in society. We see Scout, Jem, and even Dill, gain a greater understanding of the world and their place in it, watch the children come to respect their father for more than just being a good father, see them make dares, terrorize the neighbors in good fun, and even stop a mob before it turns violent. With Scout, particularly, there is an element of gender identity at play that leads into a larger discussion about class and society. Children learn from those around them, and Scout spends much of the novel assessing those around her, perhaps subconsciously looking for a role model for herself. The ideas of what a good southern woman is and should be are imposed upon her throughout the town, such as Ms Dubose who criticizes her manner of dress, or Aunt Alexandra and her attempts to eradicate Scout’s tomboyish behavior, and she learns to dislike Miss Stephanie and her gossipy behavior. Miss Maudie, however, curbs gossip and insults, and puts on the face of a southern lady, but still gets down into the dirt in the garden and behaves in other, more boyish, ways that Scout identifies with. The gender identification becomes a cog in the gear of Southern tradition in manners and class. While the court case is unquestionably controversial due to the racial implications, it is also because it forces people to discuss rape and involves questioning the Word of a woman. It forces up a lot of taboo that the community is uncomfortable in being forced to deal with it, and many inevitably turn a squeamish blind eye when forced to confront the ugly truths at hand. Macomb is a society where everything and everyone has their place, a set identification, and they do not like it being disturbed. Most important to note is the correlation that the characters who are most inclined to uphold societal traditions through self-righteous brow-beatings often exhibit the most rampant racism throughout the novel.
‘Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’
There are many ‘mockingbird’ characters in this novel, such as Tom and Boo, but the real mockingbird is, to me at least, the innocence that is lost. The town is forced to see each other for who they really are, to question their beliefs, to grow up with all the racism and bigotry going on around them. Atticus teaches Scout that we cannot know someone until ‘you consider things from his point of view’, and through the novel we see many misjudgements of character based on misunderstanding or characters refusing to see beyond their closed opinions, or even something as simple as Scout and Jem believing the rumors of Boo Radley as a bloodthirsty maniac. ‘People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.’ This applies to many obdurate aspects of society, such as Miss Maudie stating ‘sometimes the Bible in hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of-oh, your father,’ emphasizing the ways that a closed mind is just as dangerous as a violent hand and that even religion can be misused. There is a message of love, of looking into the hearts of others and not just judging them, a message of compassion and open-mindedness working through To Kill a Mockingbird, and it is a message that we all must be reminded of from time to time.
There are a few issues that arose on a re-reading of the novel, having grown myself as a reader since I first encountered this lovely book. While the moral lessons are important and timeless, there is a sense of heavy-handedness to their delivery. Particularly at the end when Sheriff Tate points out the dangers of making a hero of Boo Radley.
taking the one man who’s done you and this town a great service an’ draggin’ him with his shy ways into the limelight—to me, that’s a sin. It’s a sin and I’m not about to have it on my head.
This statement is quickly followed by Scout mentioning to Atticus that ‘Well, it’d be sort of like shootin’ a mockingbird, wouldn’t it?’. It seems a bit unnecessary to reiterate the point, especially when Tate’s double use of sin was enough to draw a parallel to the message earlier in the novel that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird. This, I admit, is overly nitpicky but brings up a conversation about teaching this novel in schools. This book is, ideally, read at a time of the readers own coming-of-age and the connections they are sure to draw with the characters reinforce the love for the novel. It is also a time in life when you are just beginning to understand the greater worlds of literature, and overtly pointing out themes is more necessary for readers when they haven’t yet learned how to look for them properly. It is books such as this that teach us about books, and usher us into a world of reading between the lines that we hadn’t known was there before. Another quiet complaint I have with the novel that, despite the themes of racism, Calpurnia seems to be a bit of an Uncle Tom character. However, who wouldn’t want to be in service for as great of a man as Atticus, so this too can be overlooked.
To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel surely deserving of it’s classic status. Though it is not without its flaws, there is a timeless message of love that permeates through the novel. It is also of great importance as a book that young readers can use as a ladder towards higher literature than they had been previously exposed to. Lee has such a fluid prose that makes for excellent storytelling, especially through the coming-of-age narrative of Scout, and has a knack for creating exquisite characters that have left their immortal mark in the halls of Literature as well as the hearts of her readers.
‘...when they finally saw him, why he hadn’t done any of those things...Atticus, he was real nice.
Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.’
¹This style is reminiscent of William Faulkner, such as the court scene in Barn Burning from the detached perspective of a child. In fact, much of this novel feels indebted to Faulkner and the works of Southern Gothic authors before her, and the Tom incident and case feels familiar to those familiar with Faulkner’s Dry September or Intruder in the Dust. The way the most self-righteous and self-professed 'holy' also tend to be the basest of character morals is reminiscent of Flannery O'Connor as well. Lee’s story is fully her own, but it is always interesting to see the travels and growth of literary tradition.
Top reviews from other countries
But finally I had a chance of reading this and reading after this I felt like I would give more stars than possible .
The patience is utter key in the book. The way every character progress , the way harper Lee have developed each character it's real more than fiction.
It's written from a little girl's point of view but has amazing thoughts for everyone. Even after being written so many years ago, it still has some very relevant lessons for everyone, there is something for everyone in it! Definitely one of the #mustread books.
Here are some of my favourite #quotes from the book:
"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it."
"People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for."
"There are just some kind of men who-who're so busy worrying about the next world they've never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results."
Firstly, even though I was always an avid reader, when To Kill A Mockingbird was published it managed to pass me by. It wasn’t being read by my peers and any stir that the film had created was already dwindling by the time I reached the age group to which the book seemed to be appealing. Secondly, it is a book that seems to be better known these days for the film version than for its own merit, which is a shame. The 1962 film depiction, while creditable, is very narrow in its take on the story, focusing on the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman. I’ll return to that later. Finally, of course, there are whole generations of people who will not have read the book (or seen the film) as it tends to be contemporary books that are read, while older works are mainly gathering dust on library shelves.
The plot covers many aspects of life in Alabama in the mid 1930s, as seen through the eyes of the protagonist Scout, or Jean Louise Finch to call her by her real name. The nickname is never explained. At the start of the story Scout is 6 years old, two years younger than Harper Lee would have been at this time. She is joined in her adventures by her older brother Jem (Jeremy) and a neighbour’s visiting nephew Dill (Charles Baker Harris). The book is not only a depiction of who two races see each other, it is also how different groups within the white race view each other and an early issue raised is about white poverty during the Depression.
It later emerged that Dill was loosely based on Harper Lee’s real life neighbour Truman Capote, another novelist also recently deceased.
Scout’s father is lawyer Atticus Finch who is also a member of the State Legislature and a much respected member of the community – at least at the start of the book. In real life Harper Lee grew up in Alabama and her father was a lawyer who became caught up in a rape case similar to that featured in the book. Harper Lee may also have been influenced by the trials, in Alabama, of the Scottsboro Boys, concerning the rape of two white women by nine black teenagers. The trials took place in 1931 the original trials are now generally regarded as significant miscarriages of justice.
We join Scout at the start of her schooling where we discover that she is a precocious child, already able to read and write. Some might describe her as old beyond her years. The story then takes us through three years of her life, including the period of the trial and its aftermath.
The use of Scout as the narrator is a very useful tool. As a child she is automatically considered to be naïve, which allows her to ask questions that no adult would think to ask, or maybe dare to ask. This is useful for the reader as the answers usually come from Atticus so we get to know him very well. They are more often avoided if asked of the other adult characters. We can feel Scout’s confusion as she is told by her first grade teacher not to read at home because she’s been taught to read “the wrong way”, which is one of the first narrow minded adult issues she has to deal with.
During the first half of the book black people are barely mentioned. Calpurnia, the Finch’s cook/housekeeper, is black but is very much a part of the Finch family, carrying much of the burden of Scout and Jem’s upbringing to that point. Scout’s mother died when she was quite young and was almost unknown to Scout. Apart from that we hear nothing much about the black community of Maycomb County, as though they are invisible. This is entirely intentional, of course. Black people and white people just didn’t mix. Scout lives in a white neighbourhood, so almost the only black people she ever sees are domestic servants such as Calpurnia and those such as Zeebo, the garbage truck driver, who has to come into the area as part of his duties. She never encounters the majority of the black community who work on the land.
Most of the first part of the story is about the three children and their adventures which, despite the passage of time, are not really any different from those that I enjoyed as a child and which many children still enjoy. In one sub-plot they are much taken by the mysterious figure of their reclusive neighbour, Boo Radley, and spend much of their time devising ways to tempt him from his house.
Later the story turns to the trial of Tom Robinson and we discover some things that the film doesn’t make clear. The first is that Atticus didn’t willingly take on Tom’s defence. He is appointed to it by the County Court judge. The judge’s choice is deliberate of course, he wants Tom to have the best defence possible and Atticus is the man who will deliver that, but we are left with the interesting question: “Would Atticus have taken the case of his own accord?”
The reason I ask this is because the film makes Atticus appear very liberal, almost a man of the future. I think the book shows us a different man. He was liberal by the standards of many of his peers, there is no doubt of that but would he, for example, have voted for John F Kennedy or Barak Obama? I’m not convinced. He believed in justice for all and the equality of all men before the law, but that is not the same as being liberal.
The film also omits some characters who have a considerable influence on Scout, those of Aunt Alexandra and Miss Dubose, for example. I can see the need for the Director of the film to be selective in what sections of the plot are included and which left out, but those decisions are what makes the book superior to the film. I actually rented the film to watch so that I could make those sorts of comparisons for this review.
In the run up to the trial the town is abuzz with gossip and divided in its attitude towards Atticus. Most people recognise that Atticus is just doing his job, but others regard his behaviour as showing favour to black people over white, which was unthinkable. Scout is regularly taunted at school over this matter and is not slow to take up arms in her father’s defence (be prepared for many uses of the “N” word).
This is where the story becomes so contentious, because white attitudes towards black people were just starting to be challenged openly in 1960 when the book was published. Rosa Parks took her famous bus ride in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955 and the book was published only 5 years before the civil rights marches protesting about black people not being allowed to register to vote in Alabama, despite it being their legal right to do so.
It is of course impossible for Tom Robinson to get a fair trial from an all-white jury in Alabama in the 1930s, so Tom is duly convicted despite there being more than a little doubt over the evidence presented by the two key prosecution witnesses, Bob Ewell and his daughter Mayella, the supposed victim of the rape. Indeed it is key to later events that the pair are shown up to be liars, but that isn’t enough to sway the jury. Indeed Tom is more than a little lucky not to have been lynched before the matter even got to trial.
It could be argued convincingly that it is still hard for a black person to get a fair trial in Alabama, even 80 years after the events depicted in this book, which makes the book as relevant today as it was then.
However, the period in which this book is set is crucial to the way it is told. The last surviving Alabama veteran of the Confederate Army still lived in the town. The parents of most of the characters and some of the older characters, such as Miss Dubose, will have grown up in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, which left two communities struggling to makes sense of what had happened to their way of life. This will have doubtless had a profound effect on the way the white community viewed the black, while the black community discovered that being free was not the same as being equal.
So, is this book still relevant in 2016? I would say it is.
Why have I only given this book four stars? After all, it was seen as one of the great works of the 20th century. Well, it is somewhat dated. I think that if Harper Lee were writing it today (if she were still alive to do so) she would take a whole new approach to get her message across. It is also a matter of expectations. We shouldn’t try to judge the past on the basis of our values in the present. As Atticus Finch himself says, if we want to know a person we have to put on his shoes and walk around in them for a while. If we wish to judge the present then we have a whole lot of new evidence available on which to base our opinions.
Do I recommend the book? Of course I do. My only regret is that I didn’t read it much earlier in my life.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on July 26, 2019
To Kill a Mockingbird focuses on that gut instinct of right and wrong, and distinguishes it from just following the law. Even the titular quote: "Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird" is in itself an allegory for this message. Being in itself a generic message, the idea of 'doing what's right' obviously has a different meaning depending on when and where you're reading the book. If you take 1960, when the book was written, America was in a state of ethical development as social inequality was - very - gradually being overcome. Women's rights and black rights movements were beginning to emerge and some campaigned through violence. Would Atticus Finch condone this?