Sunday, June 24, 2012

To Kill a Mockingbird

1960, 1982 Warner edition
Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird
Original price $6.99, purchase price unknown
Worn paperback

This won the Pulitzer Prize and still holds up well, although I think part of what makes it good also makes it odd.  The novel works on several levels, due to Lee looking back at her fictionalized childhood.  Each time I read the book, whether as a teenager or thirty years later, or at points in between, I get this sense of not quite, or just barely getting it.  To take a crude example, when Jem and Dill are having their peeing contest, it's written in such a nonchalant way that I don't think I understood what was going on until maybe this reading.  Throughout the book, it's unclear how much Scout understands of very grown-up subjects, and this creates a split consciousness in the reader.  At the same time, there's a theme of how much adults understand children, and one reason why Atticus is one of the top dads of 20th-century fiction (particularly as portrayed by Gregory Peck in the 1962 film) is that he understands his children.

But then the whole book is about empathy, "walking around in another man's shoes."  Tom Robinson's downfall is partially due to him "feeling sorry" for a white girl.  The title is related to this theme, that it's wrong to kill what's good.

The novel deals with heavy issues, like rape and abuse, prejudice of all sorts, but it's also about growing up, with simple joys like chewing gum.  I'm not sure how well it all hangs together, but Scout is an endearing and enduring narrator.

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