To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill A MockingbirdTitle: To Kill a Mockingbird
Author: Harper Lee
Publication date: 1960

What’s it about?To Kill a Mockingbird

Scout Finch and her brother Jem live with their father Atticus, a lawyer, in a quiet Southern US town. Against a backdrop of childhood summers spent inventing games and being fascinated by local recluse Boo Radley, Scout narrates the tale of her father’s most controversial case: one destined to bring out the worst – and also the best – in their friends and neighbours.

Where did I get hold of the book?

The university library… again… But rest assured some new sources will come into play from next month onwards!

What did I learn from it?

You know how you can suddenly experience a flash of insight, which, when you think about it, you realise is actually something you’ve always known? That’s kind of what happened here.

I was mulling over the character of Arthur ‘Boo’ Radley, and how refreshing it was to see a ‘weirdo’ not portrayed as ultimately bad or untrustworthy, but in fact genuinely nice and kind (if a little eccentric). No evil villain with captive damsels in his basement or terrifying plans to run amok with a firearm – just a timid guy who prefers to keep himself to himself.

It struck me that if anyone is going to appreciate the quirks of the loner, it is likely to be a writer. While some writers may be the life and soul of the party, writing itself is a solitary pursuit, one that is undertaken at a time and in a manner peculiar to each individual. So it should not come as a surprise that a fictional oddball should receive a sympathetic rather than a judgemental treatment from the person wielding the pen.

In our modern world of social media, where every innermost thought is expected to be turned into a post, a meme or a humorous image, and where the introverted, the unconventional and the idiosyncratic are increasingly regarded with suspicion, it makes a refreshing change to see one of the great recluses of literature turn out to be, in his own way, as much of a hero as Atticus Finch.

How did it make me see the world differently?

The joy of To Kill A Mockingbird lies in the childlike perspective of Scout, the narrator. We watch the unfolding of events in her town through a child’s eyes, which naturally do not see as much of the world’s ugliness as those of the adults around her – and yet perhaps they see more clearly than those that have grown tainted with racial and other prejudice.

Scout and Jem, although gradually exposed to the unpleasantness surrounding them (and being personally involved in the final climactic showdown), are essentially kept at arm’s length from the worst of the troubles – and I think this is largely due to the protection they receive from their father. Although we, as adults, are aware of the challenges Atticus must be facing in his work, we read about them with a casual lightheartedness that can only come from a child who is sheltered from the true horrors of what grown-ups are capable of doing to each other.

This reminds me that there are several ways in which even we adults may be protected from the more troublesome elements of life; and how this is so important for finding the strength to go on.

Whether it’s a boss who protects us from the frustrating vagaries of an organisation that it’s not our job to have to negotiate; a parent or spouse who takes care of complicated family relations to smooth the way for us; or a writer who holds our hand through new experiences, so that we get a feel for what is out there without having to walk through the fire ourselves… all these people make it easier for us to navigate the world, to venture on to fresh paths with some of the danger and uncertainty removed, and to have the confidence to strike out in ways we may have been too fearful to attempt before.

This book has given me a renewed appreciation for all the people throughout my life, from childhood to adulthood, who have protected me from things that might have stopped me from becoming who I am now. I am here because of them, and I will not forget this.

What changes will I make to my life as a result of it?

Two things!

  1. Bearing in mind my above comments about how writing can help us figure out a path through life, I’ve determined that next year will not just be the year I write my novel: it will also be the year I get some short stories down on paper. I’ve had several ideas for ‘what if?’-style speculative fiction, and I’d like to think these ideas will encourage my readers to look anew at a familiar subject and consider how the world could be different, and (who knows?) better – and then go and make it so.
  2. I frequently take walks out in the country, and often use this time to work through issues, generate ideas and solve problems. However, I’m very aware that in doing this I’m missing out on the sheer enjoyment of being in nature for itself alone. And so I’m going to take a lesson from the children in To Kill A Mockingbird and attempt to savour the moment. I won’t necessarily be making up games as I walk, but I’ll definitely try to put aside some of my adult cares and appreciate what I’ve got while I’ve got it.

A musical interlude

Totally off at a tangent, this one – and yet at the same time, completely obvious. It’s Wake Up Boo! by the Boo Radleys.

It’s also quite appropriate, as Wikipedia describes it as being a ‘song about the change from summer to autumn’ – which, as I’m writing this on the first day of September, is precisely where we are.