To Kill A Mockingbird
Today is To Kill A Mockingbird’s 50th anniversary, and so the media is doing what it always does on such an occasion and is “re-examining” the book in the context of today. I really love this book and it pained me to read the recent criticisms of it. I started wondering if the writers of these articles were correct, and it really is overly simplistic, sexist, and apologetic to racists. So I decided to read the book again – after about seven years since the last time.
After this latest reading, I’ve realized that no, I am right. The book is terrific. Here are just some of the reasons.
- Harper Lee wrote a book for children about children learning about racism and injustice, introducing many of her young readers to those issues for the first time. I think that’s an accomplishment. As it’s a children’s book, it’s written so children can understand it.* If there’s a lack of ambiguity, that’s why. It would only would confuse kids, and being a kid is confusing enough.
- I suppose I’ve always known this was something of a coming-of-age tale, but this time I really identified with Jem as he wrestled with understanding the world, understanding that people aren’t necessarily who he always thought they were, and that good won’t always win.
- Atticus is still 99% awesome, and I still want to figure out a way to name a child after him.
- One of the things Atticus most wants to teach his kids is empathy. He famously told them they had to crawl into a person’s skin and walk around in it to understand him. Scout used this trick to understand old women, poor classmates, naive teachers, and Boo Radley. This trick helps me understand fans of The Hills, Obama, and Vince, the Shamwow guy.
- Lee perfectly captured the way it feels to be a kid. Not understanding the ways of adults, dreading school, frustration when adults were in the wrong and didn’t realize it. Somehow, she accurately describes kids’ naivete without making them seem stupid.
So can we please stop bagging on this book? We’re not playing some “desert island” game where there can only be a set number of “great” books. We can recognize TKAM as a great book and not take anything away from books written by Faulkner or Fitzgerald in the process.
And if we are playing a desert island game with great books, then I really need to talk to someone about keeping me out of that discussion.
* But not like Sweet Valley High was written so children could understand it. TKAM has some nuance, after all.