Friday, September 21, 2012

You gotta stand in another man's shoes to really know him

To Kill a MockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A John Grisham novel before there was John Grisham.  To Kill a Mockingbird is a great story on the stupidity of racial prejudice and yet its persistence and difficulty to overcome.

Atticus Finch, a lawyer in Maycomb County, Alabama, is the admirable character of the story, the man with (un)common sense in a town where that seems to be in short supply. He is an Abraham Lincoln in a town of plantation owners. At one point in the midst of the Tom Robinson trial, when Scout and Dill step out, Mr. Raymond tells Scout, "... you don't know your pa's not a run-of-the-mill man, it'll take a few years for that to sink in--you haven't seen enough of the world yet. You haven't even seen this town, but all you gotta do is step back inside the courthouse" (ch. 20). (There are other citizens, one comes to see, who also possess sense--Heck Tate, Judge Taylor, Miss Maudie, and even Mr. Raymond, not to mention most of the black characters: Tom, Calpurnia, Rev. Sykes.)

Hooray for a book that portrays a father in a positive light--Atticus, a widower, wisely navigating his son and daughter through the trials of childhood in a town where his views on race and justice are in the minority.

Throughout he teaches his children that empathizing with others leads to understanding and mercy. This was certainly the case with Mrs. Dubose, the elderly woman with a poison tongue, even as it was with Tom Robinson, and even Mayella Ewell, Robinson's accuser. "Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them" (ch. 31). At the end of the book, Scout, the daughter, remarks about their neighbor: "Atticus, he was real nice," to which Atticus responds, "Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them" (ch. 31).

Who knew that a story told through the eyes of a 3rd-grade girl could be so interesting? (My own prejudice coming out, I guess.)

Some of my favorite lines in the book:
"... but they were Haverfords, in Maycomb County a name synonymous with jackass." (ch. 1)

"Atticus said naming people after Confederate generals made slow steady drinkers." (ch. 16)

Introducing the readers to one of her neighbors, Scout relates the most important details: "Besides making change in the collection plate every Sunday, Mr. Avery sat on the porch every night until nine o'clock and sneezed." (ch. 6)

I can relate to Scout's description of her father, Atticus: "Our father didn't do anything. He worked in an office, not in a drugstore. Atticus did not drive a dump-truck for the county, he was not the sheriff, he did not farm, work in a garage, or do anything that could possibly arouse the admiration of anyone.... He did not do the things our schoolmates' fathers did: he never went hunting, he did not play poker or fish or drink or smoke. He sat in the livingroom and read." (ch. 10)

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