In anticipation of the new Harper Lee novel, Go Set A Watchman, (out July 14) I decided it was the perfect time for a re-read of To Kill A Mockingbird. I don’t think I’ve read the book since high school and the movie is still so dominant in my mind so it was a great pleasure to revisit the text.
It is very easy to judge To Kill A Mockingbird against contemporary novels. The coming-of-age genre has increased exponentially as has the feisty, intelligent young heroine since it was published in 1960. The book is also heavy on the idealism with little room for subtlety. But is the novel’s context that makes it the enduring classic we all love. For its time and place it was, and still is, a very important novel. Mainly because the issues confronted in the novel in 1930s Alabama still exist today, around the world.
We all know the novel is a book about our prejudices and it was really interesting to see how Harper Lee adds our prejudices to the story in increments. Firstly our prejudices based on money, class and poverty. Then our prejudices based on the unknown and how we believe in rumours, good and bad, to fill the void. And then finally our prejudices based on race and skin colour. As Scout learns from each of her experiences of these prejudices she is slowly introduced to the injustices of the world around her until she is finally confronted with how systematic these prejudices are entrenched in society and the true consequences of the injustice these prejudices create.
It is little wonder this books is almost compulsory reading for every high school student around the english-speaking world. There probably is a case that To Kill A Mockingbird would be considered a Young Adult novel if it was published today, a category which certainly did not exist in 1960, although I think it still stands as a novel for all readers to enjoy. It is the ultimate coming-of-age story because we wish our children to experience the same formation of the world that Scout does. And at the same time aspire to be on par with Atticus Finch, an almost a mythical character now, a literary moral compass.
To Kill A Mockingbird is not a perfect novel but it is a seminal work of 20th century literature which is why it is a novel that will endure for many decades and many generations still to come. I fell instantly back in step with Scout and Jim and the powerful ending with Boo Radley brought a tear to my eye once again.
I await Go Set A Watchman with equal parts excitement and trepidation.
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